The Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s international airport Wednesday was shot down by mistake by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile, Pentagon officials told Fox News.

Officials said U.S. intelligence increasingly points at the airliner being accidentally struck by a Russian-made missile, killing all 176 people on board the flight, just hours after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles targeting two military bases housing American and coalition troops.

“An absolute tragedy,” one U.S. official told Fox News. “They just screwed up and it is tragic.”

The revelations come as Ukrainian investigators reportedly are awaiting permission from Iranian authorities to examine the crash site and look for missile fragments. Iran’s head of civil aviation was quoted by the ISNA News Agency as saying Thursday that “scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumors are illogical,” according to Reuters. Iranian officials have blamed a technical malfunction for the aircraft’s doom.

The U.S. official told Fox News that a Russian-made SA15 missile, which is part of the Tor surface-to-air missile system, was the kind that brought down the aircraft. Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1 systems to Iran in 2007 as part of a $700 million contract signed in December 2005. Iran has displayed the missiles in military parades as well.

“A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main (theories), as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told Ukrainian media earlier. He did not elaborate on where he saw the information.

When asked Thursday about what could have happened to the Ukrainian International Airlines flight, President Trump said he didn’t believe that a mechanical failure caused the plane crash.

“It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood,” he said. “Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.”

Danilov also said other possible causes under consideration for Wednesday’s downing included a drone or another flying object crashing into the plane, a terrorist attack or an engine malfunction causing an explosion. However, no terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack and the plane was less than four years old.

The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over it killing an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general in a drone strike last week.

Newsweek was the first to report that the plane was mistakenly shot down by missiles.

RUSSIAN MISSILE STRIKE EYED AS ONE OF MANY POSSIBLE CAUSES THAT LED TO PLANE CRASH IN IRAN: UKRAINE

Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesman of the Iranian armed forces, earlier denied a missile hit the airplane in comments reported Wednesday by the Fars news agency. He dismissed the allegation as “psychological warfare” by foreign-based Iranian opposition groups.

The incident has similarities to the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

All 298 passengers and crew on board flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed on July 17, 2014, when a missile shattered the Boeing 777 midair, sending debris and bodies raining down onto farms and fields of sunflowers. The jet in 2014 was shot down by a Soviet-made missile over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, about 25 miles from the Russian border, where fighting had been raging for months between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.

US-IRAN TENSIONS: A TIMELINE OF INCIDENTS BETWEEN TWO LONGTIME RIVALS

An initial report prepared by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said Thursday that the plane’s crew never made a radio call for help and was trying to turn back for the airport when it went down.

The Ukrainian International Airlines flight took off at 6:12 a.m. Wednesday, after nearly an hour’s delay, from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, the main airport for travelers in Iran. It gained altitude heading west, reaching nearly 8,000 feet, according to both the report and flight-tracking data.

Then something went wrong, though “no radio messages were received from the pilot regarding unusual situations,” the report said. In emergencies, pilots reach out to air-traffic controllers to warn them and to clear the runway for their arrival, though their first priority is to keep the aircraft flying.

US DEFENDS SOLEIMANI KILLING AS ‘SELF-DEFENSE’

Eyewitnesses, including the crew of another flight passing above it, described seeing the plane engulfed in flames before crashing at 6:18 a.m., the report said. Flight-tracking data for the plane stopped before the crash, which occurred in the town of Shahedshahr to the northeast of the plane’s last reported position.

The crash caused a massive explosion when the plane hit the ground, likely because the aircraft had been fully loaded with fuel for the flight to Kyiv, Ukraine.

But the report also confirmed that both of the “black boxes” that contain data and cockpit communications from the plane had been recovered, though they sustained damage and some parts of their memory were lost. It also said that investigators have initially ruled out laser or electromagnetic interference as causing the crash.

“We insist Iran give us full access to the investigation and to the materials of the investigation and I call on everyone to avoid any speculations,” Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, said Thursday.

Oleksandr Zaporozhchenko, a mechanic with the Ukraine International Airlines in 2016-2018, said he knew one of the crew members of the plane and had never heard any complaints about the aircraft.

Source: CNN

Ukrainian airplane shot down by mistake by Iranian anti-aircraft missile, Pentagon officials believe

The Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s international airport Wednesday was shot down by mistake by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile, Pentagon … Read more

Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases that hold US troops in what appears to be retaliation for the American airstrike that killed a top Iranian general last week, the Pentagon said Tuesday, confronting President Donald Trump has rump with the biggest test of his presidency to date.

A US official told CNN that there were no initial reports of any US casualties, but an assessment of the impact of the strikes is underway. A preliminary report from an Iraqi security source indicated there were Iraqi casualties, but Iraqi security officials later told CNN there were no casualties among Iraqi security forces.

There are casualties among the Iraqis at al-Asad airbase following the attack, an Iraqi security source tells CNN. The number of casualties and whether the individuals were killed or wounded were not immediately clear.

White House aides had initially made plans for a possible address to the nation by Trump, according to two officials, but a White House official said that Trump would not speak on Tuesday. The President later tweeted, “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”

The attack comes days after the US killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The administration has sought to cast that strike as an attempt to de-escalate tensions with Iran, but Tehran has vowed revenge for the killing,which it says was an “act of war” and “state terrorism.”

In a statement, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, an elite wing of the Iranian military that is also known as the IRGC, said the attacks were “hard revenge” for the death of Soleimani. The IRGC said in the statement that any country housing US troops could be subject to “hostile and aggressive acts” and called on American citizens to demand the government remove US troops from the region.

“To the Great Satan … we warn that if you repeat your wickedness or take any additional movements or make additional aggression, we will respond with more painful and crushing responses,” the statement to the US read.

Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesperson, said Tuesday evening that Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at the al-Asad airbase, which houses US troops, and American and coalition forces in the town of Erbil. Hoffman said the Pentagon is assessing the damage done by the attacks.

“In recent days and in response to Iranian threats and actions, the Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners,” Hoffman said in a statement. “These bases have been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region.”

View this interactive content on CNN.com

“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region.”

The initial assessment is that the Iranian missiles struck areas of the al-Asad base not populated by Americans, according to a US military official and a senior administration official. Officials have said the US is awaiting daylight to get a full assessment of the results of the strike. Another US military official told CNN the military had enough warning of the launches that they had time to sound alarms. People in harm’s way were able to get to safety, according to the official.

At least two ballistic missiles hit separate areas in Erbil, two Kurdish security officials tell CNN. One missile landed inside the perimeter of Erbil International Airport without exploding, the second missile hit an area roughly 20 miles west of Erbil without causing casualties.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley arrived at the White House following the attack and they left later Tuesday night.

Qatri al-Obeidi, a commander in the nearby town of al-Baghdadi, said that the shelling has stopped for now. Trump visited the base in December 2018 to visit troops after Christmas. Vice President Mike Pence also visited the base in November 2019. The attack follows last week’s deadly US drone strike that Trump ordered to kill Soleimani.

Iran Claims Responsibility

Iranian state TV reported that the IRGC, “has hit U.S. Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq with tens of missiles.” The IRGC warned the US of more “crushing responses in case of new aggression,” according to state TV. The IRGC said it will target any regional state that becomes a platform for US aggression, a second banner on state TV read.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the response was meant to be proportionate to the American attack that killed Soleimani.

“Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched,” Zarif tweeted. “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

Esper’s office called the office of the Prime Minister of Iraq at around 7 pm ET on Tuesday, according to a diplomatic source. There were difficulties getting through as it was the middle of the night in Baghdad. Eventually the two offices were able to connect and the source says there has been “communication between the US and Iraqi governments at the highest level.”

CNN reported earlier on Tuesday that US forces and air-defense missile batteries across the Middle East were placed on high alert overnight Monday to possibly shoot down Iranian drones as intelligence mounted about a threat of an imminent attack against US targets, according to two US officials.

CNN reported on Friday that part of the intelligence that led to the decision to kill Soleimani included threats to al-Asad air base.

A source familiar with the intelligence showed the vehicle mounted rockets, known as Grad trucks, and other military weaponry were moving closer to US interests, particularly the al-Asad air base, CNN reported.

Other targets of concern included the US air base in Qatar and US interests in Kuwait. The source noted on Friday that these threats have existed for several months but that the intelligence indicated growing urgency because of how close the missile trucks were getting to US interests.

The attack came hours after Esper told CNN that the US is not seeking a war with Iran but it is “prepared to finish one.”

“We are not looking to start a war with Iran, but we are prepared to finish one,” Esper said during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Trump was briefed on the reports of rocket attacks, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

“We are aware of the reports of attacks on US facilities in Iraq. The President has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team,” Grisham said.

Attack are a Direct Challenge to Trump

The rockets pose a direct challenge to Trump, who issued a threat to Iran on Tuesday, just hours before the attacks began. “If Iran does anything that it shouldn’t be doing, they will be suffering the consequences and very strongly,” the President said.

In the immediate aftermath of Soleimani’s killing, Trump repeatedly stressed that the deadly drone strike was meant to reduce violence. “We took action last night to stop a war,” he told reporters a day after the attack. “We did not take action to start a war.”

Trump’s message later shifted to warning of a “disproportionate” attack that could include targeting Iran’s cultural sites, a war crime.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told CNN early Tuesday that Tehran was not intimidated.

“His threats will not frighten us,” Zarif said.

“Disproportionate response is a war crime. But he doesn’t care it seems about international law,” Zarif said of Trump. “But has he made the US more secure? The American people are more secure? Are the Americans today welcome in this region?”

Iran’s decision to attack is a “huge gamble,” said Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor and Iran expert at the University of Ottawa who said that leaders in Tehran have included Trump’s domestic political concerns in their calculations. The President ran on a platform of ending US involvement in the messy Middle East entanglements.

“Iran assesses Trump does not want to get bogged down in a large scale war in the Middle East, and that this gives it more margin to maneuver,” Juneau wrote on Twitter. “Needless to say, this is a HUGE gamble given how unpredictable Trump is.”

Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said Iran’s attack was a foregone conclusion after the Ayatollah announced there would be retaliation. Further escalation will depend on Trump’s ability to absorb the attack and a few casualties, she said.

She noted the pattern often seen in attacks on Israel and Hezbollah, in which one side attacks, the other responds, the attacks are absorbed and mediation begins through a third party.

“From Trump’s rhetoric, he doesn’t seem as if he’s willing to absorb any Iranian retaliation — no matter how proportional it is to the US attack that killed Soleimani — and that means we’re locked into an escalatory spiral that will push us into war that will unfold on Iranian territory, but also in the rest of region, including Iraq,” Slim said.

Lawmakers urged calm. Rep. Eliot Engel, the New York Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN’s Erin Burnett there’s a need to “tone down the rhetoric on all sides and see how we can extricate ourselves from this nightmare because I don’t think the American people want to go to war.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was discussing the situation in Iran when she was handed a note with news of the attack, lawmakers who attended the meeting said.

Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, said she paused the discussion to tell the members of the Steering Committee of the news.

“Pray,” Pelosi told members, according to Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Source: CNN

IRAN ATTACKS TWO IRAQI BASES HOUSING US FORCES IN ‘REVENGE’ FOR SOLEIMANI’S DEATH

Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases that hold US troops in what appears to be retaliation … Read more

BEIRUT (AP) — When Syrian President Bashar Assad made a rare visit to Tehran last year, the powerful Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani was there to greet him, along with Iran’s supreme leader and president. Iran’s foreign minister wasn’t, and he resigned in protest at being excluded from talks with a crucial ally.

It was a telling episode on who controls Iran’s policy in Syria. Iran’s frontman in Syria since 2011, Soleimani helped turn the tide in the now nearly 9-year-old civil war, intervening to save Assad as armed rebels neared the capital, Damascus, and seized key cities. He welded together Shiite militias from across the region to back Syria’s military and waged sieges that captured back territory, wreaked destruction and prevented the collapse of Assad’s state.

His killing in an U.S. airstrike in Iraq is likely to rattle thousands of Iranian-backed fighters in Syria. The networks of militias he set up will remain in place, and Syria is likely to become a scene for confrontation with hundreds of U.S. troops stationed there.

The Iranian-backed militias are scattered all over Syria, including near civilians and some near American positions, said Danny Makki, a Syrian analyst based in Britain. If the U.S.-Iranian conflict escalates — “as is very likely,” he said — the U.S. or Israel could strike the militias, or the Iranian-backed fighters could attack American positions, which are in the eastern part of Syria, including near Kurdish-controlled oil fields that Damascus is eager to regain.

“The battleground will be Syria and Iraq,” Makki said. “It could go bad on multiple levels.” Soleiman’s killing could also have a resounding knock-on effect in Syria. If Baghdad forces U.S. troops to leave Iraq in protest, American soldiers in Syria would lose a vital logistics and supply line and would likely have to pull out as well. That would leave the Americans’ ally, the Syrian Kurds, vulnerable. Iraq’s Parliament on Sunday demanded U.S. troops leave, but it is not immediately clear if the government will carry out the threat.

Soleimani, known simply as the General, transformed Iran’s traditional role of supporting proxies focused on challenging Western influence to forging paramilitary forces that could prop up a ruler and a traditional army.

He led Iran’s intervention in Syria when it became clear to Tehran, early on in the war, that its only state ally in the region was on the verge of collapse. That would have endangered a vital hub for Tehran: Assad’s state provided access to Iran’s most important and professional militia ally, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, gave depth and protection to its influence in Iraq and put Iranian influence on the border with Israel.

Soleimani, at the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, brought in and organized thousands of Shiite militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran to back Assad’s overstretched military, providing firepower and skills. He reorganized Syria’s own various paramilitary groups into one force, injecting disciplined fighters into the otherwise drained troops.

It was also Soleimani who negotiated joint military operations with Russia in 2015, two months before Russia began its airstrikes in Syria. In April 2016, Russia carried out airstrikes inside Syria from Iran, the first time a foreign state operated inside Iran since World War II, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Soleimani set battlefield priorities, wresting strategic areas from opposition control one by one. An early objective was Qusayr, a town near the Lebanese border key to supply lines with Hezbollah, then central cities and suburbs around Damascus and a top prize, Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. When Aleppo was fully recaptured in 2016, it was Soleimani, not Assad, who visited the city.

At home in Iran, he may have been seen as a war hero fighting extremists, but his opponents say he introduced some of the most brutal tactics of the Syrian war, particularly the use of long, devastating sieges of populated areas that strangled civilians and clawed back territory until resistance collapsed. The tactic killed or displaced hundreds of thousands and left urban areas in ruins. Moreover, pitting Shiite militias against the largely Sunni opposition deepened the war’s sectarian nature and fueled atrocities.

“He was the godfather of demographic change in Syria … His hallmarks are on every massacre that happened in an area cleared of its people, starting from Homs, Ghouta, Daraa and Aleppo,” said Tarek Muharram, an opposition fighter from Aleppo who fought against Iranian-backed militias.

“Those tactics won’t change much after he dies,” said Abdul-Salam Abdul-Razek, a defecting Syrian army officer who also fought against Soleimani’s militias. Displaced Syrians celebrated Soleimani’s killing, distributing sweets or shouting thanks to U.S. President Donald Trump. In one of the last opposition-held cities in northern Syria, men danced and sang in a public square.

“We woke up to the best news,” said Jamil Andani, a displaced man in Idlib. Soleimani “made us suffer. He was our worst enemy.” For Assad and his forces, Soleimani was a savior. Eulogizing Soleimani, Assad said he left “clear marks in his victories against terrorist groups” in Syria.

The question now is how much impact Soleimani’s death will have on the forces he led. Besides his skill as a strategist and tactician, Soleimani was a powerful presence in the field, often showing up in operations rooms to direct fighting or at front lines to boost morale.

“The Syrian-Iranian alliance will continue that’s for sure,” Makki said. “But the loss of Soleimani, the mastermind of so many victories, plans and strategies will be a big blow for Syria and Iran on a policy level and in terms of regional clout.”

Assad said the tactics used by the general will only grow and be entrenched in the men he trained. Reflecting concerns over the effect of Soleimani’s killing, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said advances made in Syria should not stall, urging fighters to be steadfast and all Iran proxies to fight the U.S. presence in the region.

“No one should be shaken or worry or be afraid,” Nasrallah said Sunday. “We should continue the path firmly toward victory.”

Iranian general transformed Syria’s war in Assad’s favor

BEIRUT (AP) — When Syrian President Bashar Assad made a rare visit to Tehran last year, the powerful Revolutionary Guard … Read more