WASHINGTON (AP) — Two U.S. officials said today it was “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed a Ukrainian jetliner late Tuesday, killing all 176 people on board.
The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over the U.S. drone strike that killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general last week. The officials, citing U.S. intelligence, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. They said they had no certain knowledge of Iranian intent. But they said it could very well have been a mistake, and that the airliner was mistaken for a threat.
President Donald Trump suggested that he believes Iran was responsible and wouldn’t directly lay the blame on Iran, but dismissed Iran’s initial claim that it was a mechanical issue.
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.,“ Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood.“
“Some people say it was mechanical,” Trump added. “I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”
The U.S. officials wouldn’t say what intelligence they have that points to an Iranian missile. But they acknowledged the existence of satellites and other sensors in the region, as well as the likelihood of communications intercepts and other similar intelligence.
The U.S. assessment comes after a preliminary Iranian investigative report released today said the pilots never made a radio call for help and claimed the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning plane went down. Ukraine, meanwhile, said it considered a missile strike as one of several possible theories for the crash, despite Iran’s denials.
Other possible causes for the disaster under consideration include a drone or another flying object crashing into the plane, a terrorist attack or an engine malfunction causing an explosion. However, no terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack and the plane was only 3 1/2 years old.