Intelligence officials from multiple countries reportedly now believe it is very likely that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile shot down a Ukraine International Airlines jet departing from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board early Wednesday. The crash occurred only hours after Iran had retaliated for the killing of a high-ranking military general, Qassem Soleimani, by firing more than a dozen missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq.
Newsweek first reported that two anonymous U.S. intelligence officials and one Iraqi intelligence official determined that a Russian-built Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system, also known as a Gauntlet, had hit the aircraft. They also said that Iran’s anti-aircraft systems were likely active following the retaliatory missile strike. Other news outlets subsequently confirmed Newsweek’s report, and intelligence officials from the U.K. and Europe have come to a similar conclusion. CBS noted that a satellite operated by U.S. intelligence detected infrared blips from two missile launches, and then another blip indicating an explosion. USA Today reported that photos circulating on social media appear to show fragments of a Gauntlet missile in a garden near the crash site, though the authenticity of the photos has not been definitively established.
President Donald Trump also implied during an environmental policy announcement on Thursday that Iran was responsible for the crash. “It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood, and somebody could’ve made a mistake,” he said. “Some people say it was mechanical. I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”
Iranian officials publicly blamed the crash on an engine fire on Wednesday and are now questioning the new reports. Ali Abedzadeh, who heads Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority, told CNN, “If a rocket or missile hits a plane, it will free fall,” adding that the pilot tried to turn the plane around during the flight. “How can a plane be hit by rocket or missile [and then] try to turn back to the airport?” The Ukrainian Embassy in Iran also initially attributed the crash to mechanical failures before pulling the statement back and contending that it was too early to draw any conclusions.
Iran’s government has signaled an unwillingness to cooperate with the U.S. to investigate the crash and announced that it will not share the flight’s black box recordings with the U.S. company Boeing, which manufactured the plane. Trump, though, said he was confident that Iran would eventually release the recordings to another country allied with the U.S.