Iran Says Passenger Plane Intercept by U.S. Warplane Over Syria 'Under Investigation'

Iran says it is investigating an incident in which a U.S. warplane buzzed one of its passenger planes as it flew over Syria.

News and footage of the encounter emerged on social media and semi-official Iranian news outlets Thursday, showing what appeared to be fighter jets flying near Mahan Air Flight IRM1153, an Airbus A310-304 headed to the Lebanese capital of Beirut from Tehran. Scenes of chaos onboard the airliner erupted as passengers, while the aircraft appeared to rapidly lose altitude, eliciting shouts and screams and causing at least one injury as a man could be seen with blood on his head.

The official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting network initially reported that the aircraft which approached the passenger plane was from Israel, which has for years conducted a semi-covert campaign of airstrikes against targets associated with Iran in Syria. The outlet later interviewed the airliner's pilot, who said two U.S. jets identified themselves and warned the plane to maintain its distance.

"The details of this incident are under investigation and after completing the information, the necessary political and legal measures will be taken," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said in a statement.

The ministry also noted that the Iranian mission to the United Nations "explicitly emphasized that if any incident happens on the way back for this aircraft, the Islamic Republic of Iran will hold the United States responsible" in a message sent to the U.N. Secretary-General. This message was also sent to the Swiss embassy in Tehran, according to the ministry.

U.S. Central Command spokesperson Captain Bill Urban then confirmed to Newsweek that a single U.S. aircraft was involved in the incident, which he said did not threaten the Mahan Air flight.

"A U.S. F-15 on a routine air mission in the vicinity of the CJTF-OIR At Tanf garrison in Syria conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters from the airliner this evening," Urban said in a statement.

"The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison. Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft," he added. "The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards."

iran, mahan, air, uae
A file photo taken on September 14, 2017 shows an Airbus A340 of Mahan Air at the tarmac at Dubai's International Airport. GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

The Iranian plane ultimately reached its destination in Beirut, where Lebanese media circulated images of passengers exiting the aircraft at Rafic Hariri International Airport. In a statement carried by Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency, a Mahan Air spokesperson said several passengers had been injured when the plane was forced to make a rapid descent to dodge the incoming fighter jets and that an official statement would be released tomorrow.

Civil aviation sources quoted by the official Syrian Arab News Agency indicated that aircraft of the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Syria intercepted the Iranian flight as it flew over the region of Al-Tanf. This southeastern pocket near Syria's borders with Jordan and Iraq is under the exclusive control of the U.S.-led coalition and manned by a mix of international, mostly U.S. troops and local insurgents.

The official Lebanon National News Agency earlier on Thursday reported the flight of Israeli warplanes around the neighboring country's southern villages of Kafr Kila and Marjayoun.

Iran supports the Syrian government in its nine-year civil war against an array of rebel and jihadi groups fighting to seat President Bashar al-Assad, who is also backed by Russia. Washington has largely abandoned military efforts to unseat the Syrian leader but has expanded efforts to squeeze his embattled government economically and expel Iran's presence in the country, which recently struck a new defense deal with Tehran.

President Donald Trump's administration has rolled out sanctions against Irans since leaving a multilateral nuclear deal still supported by the Islamic Republic as well as fellow signatories China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. The airline company involved in the incident reported Thursday, Mahan Air, is among the entities subject to restrictions both for allegedly "providing material support to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF)" and "shipping United Nations-restricted missile and nuclear items to Iran."

Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon but has stepped up uranium enrichment as European powers struggled to normalize trade ties under the threat of retribution by the U.S.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the spokesperson of U.S. Central Command.