Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Intelligence suggests Ukrainian airliner shot down by Iran, says Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says intelligence evidence suggests the Ukrainian passenger aircraft that crashed outside of Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board, including 63 Canadians, was shot down by an Iranian missile.

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said during a news conference in Ottawa.

Trudeau added that the strike “may well have been unintentional.”

“The news will undoubtedly come as a further shock to the families who are already grieving in the face of this unspeakable tragedy,” he said.

The prime minister’s comments came after reports out of the U.S. said it’s “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile inadvertently brought down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.

“The evidence suggests that this is the likely cause but we need to have a full and complete and credible investigation to establish exactly what happened. That’s what we are calling for and that’s what we’re expecting will happen,” he said. “Canadians have questions and they deserve answers.”

138 passengers bound for Canada

A University of Alberta spokesman confirmed Wednesday that engineering professors Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand along with their daughters, from left, Daria and Dorina, were on the Ukraine International Airlines flight that went down shortly after departing Tehran’s international airport Wednesday. It is believed that at least 27 people from the Edmonton area died in the crash. (@zaghtweet1/Twitter)

Most of the passengers on the Kyiv-bound flight PS752, which crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, were connecting to Canada, according to Trudeau.

There were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board, along with 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British citizens, according to Ukrainian officials. But 138 of the passengers on the doomed flight were connecting to Canada.

The crash of the 3½-year-old Boeing 737-800 came just hours after Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases housing American and allied troops in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad earlier.

“Canada is working with its allies to ensure that an in-depth investigation is conducted so that we can uncover causes of this tragic crash,” Trudeau said.

Talking to Iran

Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne is pictured at headquarters in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Trudeau said.

“Minister Champagne made it clear that Canadian officials must immediately be granted access to Iran in order to provide consular services, identify the victims and participate in a thorough investigation,” Trudeau said. “He also condemned Iranian strikes that targeted military bases in Iraq where coalition forces, including Canadians, are currently stationed.”

Canada’s efforts to offer consular services to the families of the victims and monitor the investigation are hampered by the fact that Ottawa cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2012 and shuttered its embassy in Iran.

During his phone conversation with Champagne, the Iranian foreign minister committed to continuing the dialogue with Canada, Trudeau said.

Speaking to reporters in Montreal during a joint press conference with his British counterpart Dominic Raab, Champagne said Zarif was open to Canada’s request.

Canadian officials have been in contact with Iranian officials to follow up on their conversation and it appears that the Iranians are ready to issue visas to Canadian consular officials and investigators, Champagne said.

Working with Ukraine to seek answers

Red Crescent workers check the debris from the Ukraine International Airlines plane, that crashed after take-off from Iran’s Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran Jan. 8, 2020. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)RC2MBE9P7P6C

Trudeau said he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to offer his condolences and share the latest findings.

“He assured me that Ukraine is taking all necessary measures to ensure a thorough investigation and we will work closely with Ukraine and our partners throughout this process,” Trudeau said.

Earlier Ukrainian officials announced that one of the hypotheses that they are looking at is the possibility that air plane was shot down accidentally by the Iranian military, which was on high alert after firing a salvo of short-range ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. and allied forces just hours before the plane went down.

Oleksiy Danylov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, said in a Facebook post that investigators are looking into possibility that the aircraft was struck by a Russian-made Tor anti-aircraft missile after unconfirmed reports that elements of the missile were spotted in the wreckage of the plane.

Other hypotheses include a collision with an unmanned drone, an engine explosion or terrorism, Danylov wrote on his Facebook page.

Lessons from the MH17 downing

Debris of a plane belonging to Ukraine International Airlines, that crashed after taking off from Iran’s Imam Khomeini airport, is seen on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran Jan. 8, 2020. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)

Trudeau said he also spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who shared his experience of handling the aftermath and investigation into the crash of the Malaysian Flight 17, which international investigators concluded was brought down by a Russian surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine.

Trudeau said he also spoke with President Emmanuel Macron, his second phone conversation with the French president in as many days.

Macron also offered his assistance in the investigation.

“It is now more important than ever that we know how such a tragedy could have happened,” Trudeau said. “The families of the victims and all Canadians want answers. I want answers. That means closure, transparency, accountability and justice. And this government will not rest until we get that.”

Trudeau refused to elaborate on what intelligence and evidence led Canadian authorities to conclude that the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile.

“Intelligence and evidence suggest that it is likely that it was a surface-to-air strike but we will not go into the details of that intelligence at this time,” he said.

Iran denies allegations

The head of the Iranian aviation authority, Ali Abedsadeh, said it was “scientifically impossible” that the Ukrainian jet was shot down by a missile.

Several other planes were in Iranian airspace at the time of the crash, Abedsadeh said, insisting that there is perfect coordination between the Iranian military and civil aviation authorities.

A preliminary Iranian investigative report released Thursday said that the airliner pilots never made a radio call for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning plane went down.

The report, obtained by Radio Canada International, suggests that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737, when it crashed at 6:18 a.m. local time, less than six minutes into its flight.

“According to witnesses (people on ground as well as the crew of the passing flights in higher altitudes observing and reporting the event), a fire appeared on the aircraft which was intensifying, then [the aircraft] impacted the ground causing an explosion,” says the report.

Canada is a “special interest” state

Debris of a plane belonging to Ukraine International Airlines, that crashed after taking off from Iran’s Imam Khomeini airport, is seen on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran Jan. 8, 2020. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA via REUTERS)

Under rules of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as Chicago Convention, Iran as the country where the incident occurred is “responsible for the conduct of the investigation.”

In addition, Ukraine, which operated the aircraft, and the U.S., which designed and manufactured it, are also entitled to appoint an accredited representative to take part in an investigation.

Canada, as a state, which has a “special interest” in the accident by virtue of the number of its citizens involved in or impacted by it, is also entitled to appoint an expert to the accident investigation, according to the convention.

These special interest state experts are entitled to visit the scene of the accident; have access to the factual information released by the investigating authorities; and receive a copy of the accident investigation final report.

However, these so-called Annex 13 investigations do not apportion blame or liability, their sole purpose is to generate safety data and information to aid with the prevention of future and similar accidents or incidents.

Farhad Parvaresh, Iran’s representative at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), said from the beginning Iranian authorities extended invitations to all parties, including the U.S. and Canada, as well Ukraine, Sweden and Afghanistan.

He denied media reports that Iran is withholding information from the plane’s two black boxes that have been retrieved from the crash site.

Parvaresh said the preliminary report by the Iranian investigators indicates that both the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder have been damaged as a result of the accident and catching fire.

“The memory parts of both recorders are in good conditions, though the physical damage to their main components is noticeable,” Parvaresh told Radio Canada International, reading from the report.

If Iranian experts are unable to read the data, the devices will be transferred to France, he said.

With files from The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News

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