Several people have been arrested in Iran in connection with the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet last week that killed all 176 people aboard, an official said Tuesday.
In a statement, Iran’s Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said “extensive investigations” have led to the arrest of “some individuals.” And in a televised speech Tuesday, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, called for “a ranking judge and dozens of experts” to investigate, the AP reports. He also called the mistake “painful and unforgivable.”
Iran initially insisted that the jet, which was shot down on the morning of January 8, had crashed on its own. As other countries began to declare their belief that an Iranian missile had brought down the airliner, Tehran’s denial persisted. On Friday, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said he was “certain that no missiles hit the aircraft.”
By Saturday, though, Iran admitted what had by that point become obvious: The plane had been shot down, due to what Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called “human error.” He also blamed heightened tensions with the U.S. for causing the mistake. The missile struck the plane just hours after Iran launched an airstrike on Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops, a retaliation for the drone strikes that had killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.
That admission on Saturday led to a new problem for the Iranian government as protesters filled the streets of Tehran and other major cities, angry about the handling of the downed jet.
In a damning statement, the Association of Tehran Journalists lamented: “We are holding a funeral for the public trust [in the political establishment and the status quo].”
Other popular slogans were more direct, specifically intended to hammer home the point that the Iranian leadership is facing a worsening crisis of functionality and legitimacy: “Our stigma, our stigma; our dumb leader,” “Incompetent leader; resignation, resignation,” “Commander-in-Chief of all forces; resignation, resignation,” “Don’t call me a ‘seditionist’; you oppressor are the sedition,” “Referendum, referendum; that’s how to rescue people,” and “Death to the principle of Guardianship of the Jurisprudent.”
The Iranian regime, meanwhile, is blaming the U.S. for the mistake. “It was the U.S. that caused such an incident to take place,” Rouhani said Tuesday. “It was the U.S. that made for an agitated environment. It was the U.S. that created an unusual situation.”