Iran admits shooting down jetliner with missile; says the strike was unintentional

Iran has admitted publicly that its military “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, culminating days of intense back-and-forth between the U.S. and Iran as the two nations volley threats and accusations at one another.

The statement came Saturday morning and blamed “human error” for the shootdown that killed 176 people.

The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran during takeoff just hours after Iran launched a barrage of missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq.

Iran had denied for several days that a missile downed the aircraft. But then the U.S. and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believe Iran shot down the aircraft.

The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials.

On Friday, the Trump administration had said it suspected an Iranian missile caused the crash of the passenger jet. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a news conference that the missile strike was the most likely scenario and probably involved some type of mistake on Iran’s part.

Also on Friday, Ukrainian officials gained access to the plane’s “black box” recorder, according to Iulia Mendel, spokeswoman for Ukraine’s president. Recovery of the black box, which records data from the flight and voices from the cockpit, is considered a key step in reconstructing the final moments of any air crash.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that the box, made of hardened material capable of withstanding intense flame, explosions and impact, would be opened Friday. But the process of downloading the information could take up to two months.

An investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing. If evidence shows that the Iranian missile did, in fact, take down the plane, then the U.S. “and the world will take appropriate actions in response,” Pompeo said.

“We do believe that it is likely that that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile. We’re going to let that investigation play out,” Pompeo said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking at the news conference, announced an array of new sanctions on Iran, including measures against eight senior administration officials. He also said the department will waive the sanctions for anyone who can help with the plane crash investigation, allowing investigators to participate in accordance with U.S. sanctions law.

Contributing: The Associated Press