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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Jan. 9 that an Iranian surface-to-air missile (SAM) likely destroyed a Ukraine International Airline (UIA) Boeing 737-800 near Tehran, but he told reporters that a final determination requires a “thorough, credible” investigation.
“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence, that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Trudeau said, adding that it “may have been unintentional.”
Later in the evening, sources told CBS that U.S. satellites detected two surface-to-air missile launches had happened shortly before the plane crashed.
All 176 persons aboard Flight PS752, including at least 63 Canadian citizens, were killed. The aircraft, which had been serviced just two days earlier and was en route to Kyiv, disappeared abruptly from radar at an altitude of about 8,000 feet just minutes after taking off from Tehran International Airport.
The notion that Iranian forces might have been responsible for bringing down the civil airliner evidently is based on what intelligence sources described as infrared satellite imagery showing heat blooms in the vicinity of the aircraft. Iran is known to have Russian-built Tor short-range SAMs which are designed to detonate in proximity to targets.
U.S. President Donald Trump was the first to speculate publicly about the cause of the crash, disputing the suggestion, including by Iran, that the cause was mechanical failure.
“I personally don’t think that’s even a question,” he said, having noted that the aircraft was flying through a “pretty rough neighbourhood.”
Just before his news conference, Trudeau had met with the government’s Incident Response Group for the fourth time since the weekend. It includes Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who joined him for the news conference but didn’t say anything.
Trudeau said he has spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose country will be involved in the investigation, about the the need to include Canadian “world class” experts in the process. Alluding to the loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 and its relation to a missile strike, Trudeau said, “It’s now more important than ever that we know how such a tragedy could have happened.”
Asked how Canada, which does not have direct diplomatic relations with Iran, could respond if shut out, he said that would be “a conversation we will contemplate as we move forward.”
In the meantime, “I want answers.”
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said a few hours later that it had been invited by Iranian authorities to join the investigation.
“In accordance with Annex 13, part 5.27 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, which is governed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the TSB has been invited by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau of the Islamic Republic of Iran to attend the accident site,” it said in a statement. “We have accepted this invitation and we are making arrangements to travel to the site.”
Along with the TSB, Boeing and U.S. officials had also been invited to view the crash site by Iran.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization chief Ali Abedzadeh denied any notion that UIA Flight 752 was brought down by an Iranian missile at press conference early Friday.
“The thing that is clear to us and that we can say with certainty is that this plane was not hit by a missile,” he said. “As I said last night, this plane, for more than one and a half minutes, was on fire and was in the air, and the location shows that the pilot was attempting to return.”
Abedzadeh’s sentiments were echoed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said, through a spokesperson, that the U.S. was “spreading lies” on the crash.
Trudeau was scheduled to meet with family members of the victims on Jan. 10.