Evidence Suggests Iranian Missile Brought Down Ukrainian Airliner

Jan 10, 2020
Originally published on January 10, 2020 7:59 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Canada last night, vigils took place across the country. They were honoring the 63 Canadians who were killed in the Ukraine International Airlines disaster in Tehran. As David McGuffin reports from Ottawa, friends and families of the victims were also having to process reports that it was possible an Iranian missile caused this crash.

DAVID MCGUFFIN, BYLINE: It was below zero Fahrenheit outside the Canadian Parliament last night, but still they arrived in their hundreds, mostly Iranian Canadians, quietly gathered around a ceremonial flame, hugging, holding candles, honoring friends, family and schoolmates killed. Majid Akbari lost his close friend, Alma Oladi, a Ph.D. student in mathematics at the University of Ottawa.

MAJID AKBARI: We were so sorry about that and felt so frustrated and, like, sad. So we felt like it would be so good to gather together here and help us to feel warm and supportive.

MCGUFFIN: Kayvan Pajesky (ph) is a leader in Ottawa's 12,000-strong Iranian community.

KAYVAN PAJESKY: The whole community has a big trauma now. It was devastating. I don't know. Everybody's in shock.

MCGUFFIN: Adding to that shock was this revelation by Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, about the cause of the crash of the Boeing 737.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: 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. This may well have been unintentional.

MCGUFFIN: Trudeau would not elaborate on the nature of the intelligence but said the evidence was clear. A U.S. official told NPR that the missile used to shoot down the Ukrainian airliner was a Russian-made SA-15, and it was likely triggered in error in the midst of Iranian missile strikes on U.S. military positions in Iraq. Iran flatly denies that one of its missiles caused the crash, but it's refusing to hand over the plane's black box recorders to Boeing for analysis. Canada's foreign minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, spoke by phone to his Iranian counterpart yesterday, demanding that Canadian investigators be included in the crash investigation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE: And I would say that the response by the Iranian government or the Iranian foreign minister was open, was encouraging.

MCGUFFIN: Iran has now cleared Canada to send investigators from its transportation safety board to the crash site. But it's unclear how much access they'll be given. Dennis Horak was the last Canadian ambassador in Iran before the two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2012. He told the CBC Canada shouldn't expect much.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DENNIS HORAK: The Iranians don't do transparency very well. Their default mode is to circle the wagons and not provide a lot of information, particularly if it was a shoot down, which does seem to be the case.

MCGUFFIN: At his press conference yesterday, Trudeau was also repeatedly asked by reporters if the United States was ultimately to blame for the loss of lives, Canadian and others, because the tragedy began with the chain of events kicked off by President Trump ordering a drone strike that killed a senior Iranian military leader. Trudeau declined to answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUDEAU: I think it is too soon to be drawing conclusions or assigning blame or responsibility in whatever proportions. Right now, our focus is on supporting the families that are grieving right across the country and providing what answers we can.

MCGUFFIN: That sentiment was shared by many at the Ottawa vigil, including Majid Akbari, whose friend died on the plane.

AKBARI: We just want peace. I don't know, like, who is right, who is wrong.

MCGUFFIN: A question, like many others, that is yet to be answered. For NPR News, I'm David McGuffin in Ottawa.

(SOUNDBITE OF AGNES OBEL'S "CURSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.