What We Know About Iran's Arrests After Downing of Ukrainian Plane

Iran has announced that multiple individuals have been arrested as it continues to investigate last week's accidental downing of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, which killed all 176 people on board.

After denying for three days that the plane, which was carrying mostly Iranian and Canadian nationals, was shot down, Iranian officials admitted the tragic mistake by the country's military on Saturday. The revelation has spurred large anti-government protests in the capital, Tehran, over the past three days, as well as demonstrations in other cities. Iran has said that 147 of the plane's passengers were Iranian, although many were dual nationals of Canada and European countries.

"In pursuing the case of the downed plane, justice will be implemented irrespective of any circumstances," Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said, the Tehran Times reported on Tuesday. Gholamhossein Esmaili, the spokesperson for Iran's judiciary, also noted that several people had been arrested, according to Reuters.

"People should be assured that all the material and moral rights of the deceased and their families will be fully fulfilled and the establishment is resolute with regard to this issue," Raisi added. Officials did not say how many people had been arrested or provide details about their identities.

Iran protest
An Iranian man holds a picture of a victim of the Ukrainian plane crash during a demonstration in front of Tehran's Amir Kabir University on January 11. STR/AFP/Getty

Newsweek has reached out to Iran's Foreign Ministry as well as to its permanent mission at the United Nations to ask for more details and comment.

Separately, on Tuesday Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for the formation of a special court to investigate the incident.

"This is not an ordinary case. The entire world will monitor the proposed court," Rouhani said, according to the Tehran Times. "I myself, due to my somehow knowledge about air defense issues, say that only one person can't be guilty in this adventure, so there are some others."

Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, Iran's prosecutor general, said the government had begun pursuing the investigation into the crash "immediately," while voicing his regret over the grave mistake, Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency reported. He noted that the case would take some time, as "all aspects" needed "to be considered legally and technically."

Iranian officials' U-turn admission about the plane's downing, which came after they initially said such a mistake was "impossible," came after leaders in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada all said intelligence showed the Ukrainian aircraft had been downed by an Iranian strike. "I wish I could die and not witness such an accident," Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Iranian military's head of aerospace, said, while apologizing to the nation.

In the wake of the government's announcement, Iranian demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, chanting "Death to the dictator" in reference to the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran vigil
Iranians gather for a January 11 candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash at the gate of Tehran's Amri Kabir University, where some of the victims were former students. Majid Saeedi/Getty

The accident occurred amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, hours after the Iranian military fired missiles targeting military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. No American forces died in the attack, as the Iranian government had notified Iraq before launching the strike. Iran's retaliatory attack came after President Donald Trump ordered a U.S. drone strike to take out Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani on January 3, a controversial decision that has been condemned by Democrats and some Republicans in Washington.

Iran's president has attempted to pass the blame for the Iranian military's mistake, with the government saying the Ukrainian aircraft was shot down because it was erroneously believed to be an incoming missile.

"People know that the incident has occurred unintentionally, but it should be clear what conditions led to the incident," Rouhani said on Monday, Iran's Tasnim News Agency reported. He said the fatal accident was "rooted in the U.S., and it was the U.S. that caused such an incident to take place."

But many Iranian demonstrators appear to disagree. On Sunday, they chanted, "They are lying that our enemy is America. Our enemy is right here."

What We Know About Iran's Arrests After Downing of Ukrainian Plane | World