Highly likely Iran downed Ukrainian jetliner

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials said Thursday it was “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed a Ukrainian jetliner late Tuesday, killing all 176 people on board. They suggested it could well have been a mistake.
The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over the U.S. drone strike that killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general. Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, said they had no certain knowledge of Iranian intent. But they said the airliner could have been mistaken for a threat.

President Donald Trump suggested he believed Iran was responsible for the shootdown but wouldn’t directly blame the Iranians. He dismissed Iran’s initial claim that it was a mechanical issue. 
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.” Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood.” 

“Some people say it was mechanical,” Trump added. “I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”
The U.S. officials wouldn’t say what intelligence they had that pointed to an Iranian missile. But they acknowledged the existence of satellites and other sensors in the region, as well as the likelihood of communication interceptions and other similar intelligence.

Two additional U.S. officials said the intelligence pointing to likely Iranian responsibility became clearer overnight into Thursday.

It was not immediately clear how the U.S. and its allies would react to the downing of the airliner. At least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians were among the dead. 

Despite efforts by Washington and Tehran to step back from the brink of possible war, the region remained on edge after the killing of the Iranian general and Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes. U.S. troops were on high-alert.
The latest assessment comes just a day after Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they hadn’t had a chance to review the intelligence on the incident. Both spent much of the day at the White House and on Capitol Hill briefing the administration on on the killing of Soleimani and the resulting attacks by Iran.

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. Ukraine, meanwhile, said it considered a missile strike as one of several possible theories for the crash, despite Iran’s early denials.
The Iranian report suggests that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines late Tuesday, when it crashed, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.


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