Iran makes arrests in plane shootdown

January 15, 2020 10:00
Protesters demonstrate in Tehran on January 11 in this picture obtained from social media by Reuters. Anger over the Ukraine plane shooting has prompted thousands to take to the streets again in Iran.

Iran said on Tuesday that it has arrested people accused of a role in shooting down a Ukrainian airliner that killed all 176 people aboard last week.

President Hassan Rouhani, in address Tuesday, promised a thorough investigation into the “unforgivable error” that brought down the Ukraine International Airlines plane, Reuters reports.

Rouhani said the government would be accountable to Iranians and those nations who lost citizens. Most of those on board the flight were Iranians or dual nationals.

A team of Canadian experts joining the investigation visited the crash site on Tuesday, an Iranian news agency reported.

It followed a meeting in Tehran between experts from Canada, which had 57 citizens on the flight, Ukraine and Iran.

Iran shot down the plane last Wednesday when its military was on high alert, hours after firing missiles at US targets in Iraq. It admitted the mistake on Saturday after days of denials.

New security camera footage shows two missiles, fired 30 seconds apart, hitting the plane after takeoff, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

US intelligence officials said on Jan. 9 that the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected near the aircraft.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said some of those accused of having a role in the plane disaster had been arrested, although he did not say how many or identify them.

Since the official admission, protesters in Iran, many of them students, have held daily demonstrations, chanting “Clerics get lost!” and calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in power for more than 30 years. 

Police have responded to some protests with a violent crackdown, video posts on social media showed, with police beating protesters with batons, wounded people being carried, pools of blood on the streets and the sound of gunfire.

A video that emerged on Tuesday showed an officer using an electric baton to shock a man as he writhed on the ground.

Iran’s police have denied firing at protesters and said officers were ordered to act with restraint. The judiciary said 30 people had been detained in the unrest but authorities would show tolerance towards “legal protests”.

The unrest triggered by the plane crash comes just two months after the most violent crackdown on protests since the revolution, Reuters noted.

The authorities killed hundreds of people to put down an uprising in November when demonstrators torched banks and petrol stations.

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