OTTAWA: A Ukraine airliner that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, was likely brought down by an Iranian missile, Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said on Thursday, citing intelligence from Canadian and other sources.
Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa that the destruction of the airliner "may well have been unintentional".
The flight was on its way to Kiev from Tehran early on Wednesday, with 63 Canadians among the passengers and crew.
"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," he said.
The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines plane occurred shortly after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two US military bases in Iraq, and Iranians were on high alert for a US military response.
The incident adds to international pressure on Iran, after months of tension with the United States and then tit-for-tat military strikes. Washington killed an Iranian general last week in a drone attack in Iraq, prompting Tehran's missile launches.
In social media posts, ordinary Iranians voiced anger at their authorities for not closing the airport after Iran's missile launches. Scores of those on board were Iranians with dual nationality.
Earlier on Thursday, a US official, citing an extensive review of satellite data, said Washington had concluded with a high degree of certainty that anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane. The official said the Boeing 737-800 had been tracked by Iranian radar.
Washington believed the plane was most likely brought down accidentally, two US officials said.
The data showed the plane was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected, one of the officials said.
That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane, this official said. Heat signature data then showed it on fire as it went down.
Iran denied that the airliner had been hit by a missile, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in a statement.
"All these reports are a psychological warfare against Iran ... all those countries whose citizens were aboard the plane can send representatives and we urge Boeing to send its representative to join the process of investigating the black box," he said.
Iran's head of civil aviation denied reports that Iran was to blame as "illogical rumours."
"Scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumours are illogical," the semi-official ISNA News Agency quoted Ali Abedzadeh as saying.
"We are calling on the Canadian Prime Minister and any other government that has information about the crash to hand it over to the investigation committee in Iran," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, US President Donald Trump said he had a terrible feeling about the downed airliner, but offered no details. He said he did not believe it was a mechanical issue.
"It's a tragic thing. But somebody could have made a mistake - on the other side," Trump said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement: "There is now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian Surface to Air Missile. This may well have been unintentional."
He reiterated the call for "all sides urgently to de-escalate to reduce tensions in the region".
The US Federal Aviation Administration had banned US carriers from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the hours after Iran's attack on US-led forces in Iraq. Several other airlines also diverted flights.
Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on the missile reports on Thursday, as did the Pentagon. Spokeswomen for Ukraine's president and prime minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Boeing is still reeling from two deadly crashes of 737 MAX planes in five months that led to the plane's grounding in March 2019. The 737-800 that crashed was built in 2016 and is the prior generation of the 737 before the MAX. Boeing has built about 5,000 of those planes, which have a good safety record.
Boeing shares rose on Thursday.
The FAA had banned US carriers from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the hours after Iran's attack on US-led forces in Iraq. Several other airlines also diverted flights.
Riki Ellison, a defence expert and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said the radar signature of a Boeing airliner would have been quite similar to a large US military transport plane.
"They (the Iranians) were on full alert to shoot down anything that resembled a US aircraft. Somebody made a mistake by identifying it as a warplane," Ellison said.
Once the missiles were fired, it would have been impossible to divert them, even if the ground operators realised their error, he said. "Once you shoot those things, it’s over".