OTTAWA/WASHINGTON--A Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, was likely brought down by an Iranian missile, Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said on Thursday, citing intelligence from Canadian and other sources.
The destruction of the airliner, which carried 63 Canadians, "may well have been unintentional," Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa. "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.
The Ukraine International Airlines flight to Kiev from Tehran crashed on Wednesday hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq, and Iranians were on high alert for a U.S. military response. Trudeau said his government would not rest until it had obtained closure, transparency, accountability and justice.
Earlier on Thursday, a U.S. official, citing an extensive review of satellite data, said Washington had concluded with a high degree of certainty that anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane. The official said the Boeing 737-800 had been tracked by Iranian radar.
The U.S. government believes Iran shot down the plane by mistake, three U.S. officials told Reuters. The data showed the plane was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran of two surface-to-air missiles were detected when the heat signatures, one of the officials said.
That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane, the official said. Heat signature data then showed it on fire as it went down. Heat signatures are infrared emissions detected by U.S. military satellites.
The New York Times said it had obtained and verified a video that appeared to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane near Tehran airport. Iran denied that the airliner had been hit by a missile.
"All these reports are a psychological warfare against Iran ... all those countries whose citizens were aboard the plane can send representatives and we urge Boeing to send its representative to join the process of investigating the black box," government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in a statement.
An initial report issued by Iran's civil aviation organisation on Thursday said the 3-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem shortly after takeoff and started to head toward a nearby airport before it crashed.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump said he did not believe the crash of the airliner was due to a mechanical issue. "It's a tragic thing. But somebody could have made a mistake - on the other side," Trump said.
Riki Ellison, a defense expert and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said the radar signature of a Boeing airliner would have been quite similar to a large U.S. military transport plane. "They (the Iranians) were on full alert to shoot down anything that resembled a U.S. aircraft. Somebody made a mistake by identifying it as a warplane," Ellison said.
Once the missiles were fired, it would have been impossible to divert them, even if the ground operators realized their error, he said. "Once you shoot those things, it's over."
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen since Trump ordered the U.S. drone killing of a top Iranian general on Friday. Trump has refrained from ordering more military action and Iran's foreign minister said the strikes on Iraqi bases that house U.S. forces had "concluded" Tehran's response.