Iran just strenuously denied allegations from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. that it shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 killing all 176 people on board.
Hours after the western powers claimed to have credible intelligence showing that a surface-to-air missile was the cause of the plane crash last week, Iran’s authorities said on Friday that such claims were completely false.
“What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s national aviation department, told a press conference. “If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world.”
Abedzdeh added the suggestion that this was a targeted attack does not stack up:
“At the time this plane was in the air, there were several other internal and international flights flying at 8,000 feet and the suggestion it was targeted by a missile cannot be correct.”
However, flight records at the time show there were no other flights taking off from or landing at Imam Khomeini International airport at the same time — though there was some domestic air traffic at Mehrabad Airport, about 21 miles north-east of Imam Khomeini International airport.
Also undermining Abedzdeh’s denial are a number of videos shot in the city of Parand where the plane crash, which emerged on Thursday and appear to show the moment a missile hits Flight 752. The videos posted to social media have been verified independently by experts with Bellijgcat, Storyful and the New York Times.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zeklenskiy called on the U.S. and others to share the evidence they are relying on to make their claims.
“The missile theory is not ruled out, but it has not been confirmed yet,” Zelenskiy said in a Facebook post on Friday morning, adding that he would speak about the situation with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later on Friday.
But a final determination of what happened to the flight could take some time.
Iranian investigators said that recovering the data from the black box could take up to a month and the investigation itself could stretch into next year. French investigators confirmed Friday that they would be traveling to Tehran to aid the investigation.
Iran initially said it would block experts from Boeing from taking part in the probe, but on Friday, the foreign minister said Iran “has invited both Ukraine and the Boeing company to participate in the investigations.”
Iranian authorities said they will begin looking at Flight 752’s black box on Friday at a laboratory at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport and will assess whether or not it’s possible to retrieve and analyze the information inside the country, according to Iran’s IRNA news agency.
As of Friday morning, the site of the crash in the town of Khalaj Abad has been cleared, with no security in place and “scavengers now picking [the] site clean” according to one report. Experts say the failure to preserve the scene could hinder the investigation.
Iran’s denial came just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson all confirmed on Thursday that they possessed intelligence which showed Iran shot down the Ukranian airliner, with all three suggesting it was likely a mistake.
Of the 176 passengers and crew on board, 82 of the victims of the incident were Iranian, 63 were Canadian and 11 were from Ukraine.
The crash happened just hours after Iran launched more than 20 missiles targeting two coalition air bases in Iraq.
Cover: Rescue teams are seen on January 8, 2020 at the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran. (Photo by AKBAR TAVAKOLI/IRNA/AFP via Getty Images)