Iran Admits to Downing Ukrainian Airliner

After three days of denying responsibility, Iran acknowledged on January 11 that it had shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. The incident occurred early on January 8, hours after Iran launched missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Qods Force. All 176 people on board were killed, including 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko. The Tehran governor’s office, however, said 140 passengers were Iranian. 

Iran admitted fault after Western intelligence officials said the evidence suggested the plane was hit by a missile. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed responsibility. “When I confirmed what had happened, I really wished I could die myself,” Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the IRGC Aerospace commander, said in a press conference on January 11. But he also argued that the United States was partly responsible. Hajizadeh alleged that the jet turned toward a sensitive site and was mistaken for a cruise missile. “This is the cost from the mischief, inflammation and action of the U.S. in the region,” he added. He also claimed that the military did not intend to cover up the accident. 

Iran’s supreme leader, president and other top officials conveyed their condolences to the families of the victims. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also implied that Washington was partly to blame. “Human error at a time of crisis by U.S. adventurism led to disaster,” he tweeted.

In April 2023, an Iranian court sentenced 10 military personnel for the incident, including the commander of the weapon system that downed the airliner. The commander received 10 years in prison for deploying the weapon without permission and three years for accessory to manslaughter. The nine others were sentenced to one to three years in prison. “This court did not prosecute the commanders and main perpetrators of this crime, introduced 10 accused low-ranking officers with total obscurity of their backgrounds and identities, held sessions in private, flouted the families who attended the hearings, and ultimately issued a sham ruling…,” the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims said after the ruling.

The accident represented another unintended consequence of tensions between Washington and Tehran. In 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air Flight 655 between Bandar Abbas and Dubai, killing all 290 aboard. The crew had incorrectly identified the plane as an attacking jet.


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei


In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

After having been informed of the results of the investigation conducted by the General Staff of the Armed Forces pertaining to the Ukrainian passenger plane, and after it was proven that human error was involved in that incident, the grief stemming from the loss of the deceased from that sad incident became heavier for me.
First of all, I deem it necessary to express my genuine sympathy and my heartfelt condolences to the esteemed families of the dear victims and to ask Allah, the Exalted, to bestow patience, tranquillity and peace of mind on them. Secondly, I order that the General Staff of the Armed Forces pursue every case of possible negligence or error that may have been committed in this painful incident. Thirdly, I ask the managers and officials in charge to do everything in their power to prevent such incidents from recurring in the future.

May God, the Almighty and the Beneficent bestow His grace and mercy on the deceased, and may He shower patience and reward on their family members.

 ­-Jan. 11, 2020, in an official statement


President Hassan Rouhani

The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.

My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.

Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people.

Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake. #PS752

-Jan. 10, 2020, in tweets


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif 


Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Division Amir Ali Hajizadeh

“I was in the west of the country following the completion of missile strikes against the U.S. bases when I heard the heart-wrenching news of the Ukrainian airlines flight crash. When I confirmed what had happened, I really wished I could die myself. I said that I wish I could die so as to not witness such an event.

“For a lifetime, we (the IRGC) have made ourselves ready to die for the people. Today, we are trading our reputation with almighty God, and in these very difficult circumstances, I am here before you to explain what happened.”

“If there was a mistake, one of our guards made that mistake. Because that guard is under our command, we are responsible and we have to be accountable. The official's in civil aviation, who firmly rejected (the notion of) a missile strike, were acting based on the information available to them. I want to tell you that they are not to blame here. They are not guilty. It is all our fault, they are not guilty.”

“Neither the armed forces were intent on covering up anything, nor the IRGC, but things followed a course. But we are very sorry about what has happened.”

“This is the cost from the mischief, inflammation and action of the U.S. in the region. Really, that night we were ready for a full-scale conflict.”

“The operator then identified what his air defense system had detected as an incoming cruise missile.”

“Because the aircraft is targeted at a low altitude, it was shot down by a short-range missile.”

“Unfortunately, because of the hasty decision of one person, this great disaster happened.”

-Jan. 11, 2020, in a press briefing


Commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Hossein Salami

"We were at war with America and we still are. We are soldiers of this nation and devotees of this people. I swear to almighty God that I wished I were in that plane and had crashed with them and had burned, but had not witnessed this tragic incident."

-Jan. 12, 2020, in a speech before Parliament


International Reactions


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

“I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families."

-Jan. 14, 2020, in an interview with Global television


"While no words can ease the pain, the grief, the outrage, it is my sincere hope that you can find some comfort in knowing that all Canadians stand with you. That is what makes us strong. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. This tragedy never should have occurred, and I want to assure you you have my full support during this extraordinarily difficult time."

"I want to assure all families, and all Canadians, we will not rest until there are answers. We will not rest until there is justice and accountability."

-Jan. 12, 2020, at a vigil for victims


"Our focus remains closure, accountability, transparency, and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims."

"This is a national tragedy, and all Canadians are mourning together.”

"We will continue working with our partners around the world to ensure a complete and thorough investigation, and the Canadian government expects full cooperation from Iranian authorities."

-Jan. 12, 2020, in a statement


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

“Their high professionalism and promptness and the preliminary evidence they found in Tehran have not allowed the truth to be hidden.”

-Jan. 11, 2020, in a video address


"[Rouhani] apologized on behalf of the Iranian side for the tragedy that took 176 lives."

"The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran fully acknowledges that the tragedy was caused by the erroneous actions of the military of this state."

"It is extremely important for us to return the bodies of the deceased to Ukraine next week - by January 19 - so that their relatives can bid a final farewell.”

 -Jan. 11, 2020, in an official statement


German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

"It is important now that this is fully explained. There are positive signals Iran is involving other countries in clarifying what happened.”

"This cannot be hidden under the table. If that were to happen then it would breed new mistrust and that is the last thing we need now."

-Jan. 11, 2020, in a press conference in Brussels


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Iran's admission is an "important first step.”

“This tragic accident only reinforces the importance of de-escalating tensions in the region. It is vital that all leaders now pursue a diplomatic way forward."

"We will do everything we can to support the families of the four British victims and ensure they get the answers and closure they deserve."

-Jan. 11, 2020, in an official statement


Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven

"The fact that a plane was shot down is terrible and horrifying. To have a civil aircraft shot down—whether accidentally or not—is an act that must be condemned and Iran must take full responsibility also in relation to those affected.”

-Jan. 11, 2020, in an official statement


Ukraine International Airlines President Yevhenii Dykhne

"We didn't doubt for a second that our crew and our plane couldn't be the cause for this horrible plane crash," said company chief Yevhenii Dykhne in a statement on social media.

"These were our best guys and girls. The best."

-Jan. 11, 2020, in an official statement


United Nations Spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“It’s very important that the authorities ensure a thorough and transparent investigation into what happened, into this tragic incident, and that the investigation ... be done in accordance with annex 13 on the Convention on International Civil Aviation, with the involvement of the relevant countries impacted.”

-Jan. 13, 2020, in a statement to reporters


U.S. President Donald Trump

"It’s a tragic thing when I see that. It’s a tragic thing. But somebody could’ve made a mistake on the other side."

It had "nothing to do" with the U.S.

"It was flying at a pretty rough neighborhood, and somebody could've made a mistake."

"I have a feeling that it’s just — something very terrible happened."

-Jan. 9, 2020 in a press briefing at the White House


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

“We do believe that it’s likely that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile. We're going to let the investigation play out before we make a final determination. It's important that we get to the bottom of it.”

-Jan. 10, 2020 in a press briefing at the White House


Some of the information in this article was originally published on January 13, 2020.