This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iran’s civil aviation body has blamed a mistake by an air-defense operator for the downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner last year that killed all 176 people on board.
“The plane was identified as a hostile target due to a mistake by the air defense operator…near Tehran and two missiles were fired at it,” the Civil Aviation Organization said in its final report into the incident released on March 17.
The flight operation of the Ukrainian plane did not play a role in the crash, the report said.
The Ukraine International Airlines flight was downed by surface-to-air missiles shortly after takeoff from Tehran on January 8, 2020.
After days of official denials following the crash, Iran admitted that its forces had inadvertently shot down the Kyiv-bound plane amid heightened tensions with the United States.
The flight was downed the same night that Iran launched ballistic-missile attacks at bases housing U.S. soldiers in Iraq in response to a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed top Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander, Major General Qasem Soleimani.
In the final report, the Civil Aviation Organization described a “chain of errors,” including a communication lapse between the air defense system and its command center that led the unit to fire on the plane without receiving an order. It does not directly mention the IRGC’s role in shooting down the Ukrainian airliner.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani has repeatedly promised that those responsible for the tragedy would face trial, but it is unclear what, if any, action the judiciary has taken. Iran has also allocated $150,000 for the families of each of the victims.
The majority of the victims were Iranians and Canadians, but Afghans, Britons, Swedes, and Ukrainians were also among the dead.
The Ukrainian and Canadian governments have questioned Iran’s claims that the jet downing was accidental and criticized a lack of transparency.
In response to the report, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called it a cynical attempt by the Iranian authorities to cover up the incident.
“What we saw in the published report today is nothing more than a cynical attempt to hide the true reasons for the downing of our plane,” Kuleba wrote on Facebook. “We will not allow Iran to hide the truth, we will not allow it to avoid responsibility for this crime.”
In February, a UN special rapporteur accused Iran of misleading denials and inadequate investigations into the tragedy.
“The inconsistencies in the official explanations seem designed to create a maximum of confusion and a minimum of clarity,” Agnes Callamard, a special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said in a report following an inquiry into the issue. “They seem contrived to mislead and bewilder.”