New revelation on downing of jetliner

World | ASSOCIATED PRESS 4 Feb 2020

A leaked recording of an exchange between an Iranian air-traffic controller and an Iranian pilot purports to show authorities immediately knew a missile had downed a Ukrainian jetliner after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, despite days of denials by the Islamic Republic.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged the recording's authenticity in a report aired by a Ukrainian television channel on Sunday night.

In Tehran yesterday, the head of the Iranian investigation team, Hassan Rezaeifar, acknowledged the recording was legitimate and said that it was handed over to Ukrainian officials.

After the January 8 disaster, Iran's civilian government maintained for days that it didn't know the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard had shot down the aircraft, even after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US officials began saying they believed it had been shot down.

The downing of the jetliner came just hours after the Guard launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US forces in retaliation for an earlier American drone strike that killed the Guard's top general, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad.

Publicly accessible flight-tracking radar information suggests the Aseman Airlines aircraft, flight No 3768, was close enough to Tehran to see the blast.

Iranian officials should have immediately had access to the air-traffic control recordings and Zelensky said that "the recording, indeed, shows that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane was shot down by a missile, they were aware of this at the moment of the shooting.''

Ukraine's president repeated his demands to decode the plane's flight recorders in Kiev - something Iranian officials had promised last month but later backtracked on.

Iranian authorities, however, condemned the publication of the recording as "unprofessional,'' saying it was part of a confidential report. "This action by the Ukrainians makes us not want to give them any more evidence,'' said Rezaifar, the head of the Iranian investigators.

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