ISTANBUL — Iran said Tuesday that arrests had been made in the downing of a Ukrainian plane that Tehran admitted was mistakenly intercepted, as the president called for a special court to investigate the crash that set off days of anti-government protests.
Gholamhossein Esmaili, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, said Tuesday that “some individuals” had been arrested over the past three days after “extensive investigations,” but did not provide any detail about the identities of the suspects or say how many people had been detained.
The downing of the plane, which killed all 176 on board, last week occurred during a hair-trigger standoff between the United States and Iran, after a U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s powerful Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, earlier this month.
Tehran retaliated against the United States last Wednesday, firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at facilities in Iraq hosting U.S. troops.
In the hours after those attacks, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with a surface-to-air missile, a move it blamed on “human error.” Listed among the dead were 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, including the crew. Most, if not all, of the Canadians were reported to be of Iranian origin or dual nationals.
Iranian officials initially denied reports that the plane was brought down but on Saturday admitted that the Revolutionary Guard, which maintains military bases in the area of the crash, had shot it down by mistake.
Over the next few days, protests flared on the streets of Tehran and other cities, led by students criticizing the missile strike and chanting rare denunciations of Iran’s leadership, forcing the government on the defensive.
In a speech on Tuesday, President Hassan Rouhani addressed the crash at length, calling for a special court “with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts” to investigate. “This is not a normal case and the whole world will follow the case in our court,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks posted on his official website.
“Our people know that this accident was the result of an error and mistake, but who was involved and what circumstances led to the accident?” he said, directing blame in part at the United States, who he said had “inflamed the atmosphere and made the situation abnormal, threatened and took our loved ones from us.”
“All of this is true, but it does not mean that we should not address all the root causes of the incident,” he added. “It is not just the one who pressed the button, but rather there are others, and I want this matter to be explained to people honestly.” Rouhani also appeared to fault military leaders for waiting days to announce that the plane had been shot down, and urged the authorities “to explain to the public the whole process.”