Iran kept its airspace open the day it downed a Ukrainian civilian airliner in January to conceal its plans to attack US military bases in Iraq, according to an audio recording obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 on January 8, killing all 176 onboard. Hours earlier, Iran had struck US military bases in Iraq in response to the US killing of the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani days earlier.
Iran admitted to downing the plane after days of denying responsibility and insisting the plane crashed due to a “technical failure.”
CBC said in a report on Friday it has obtained a recording of a 91-minute long conversation that took place March 7 between Javad Soleimani (no relation to Gen. Soleimani) whose wife Elnaz Nabiyi was killed in the crash, and Hassan Rezaeifar, who was appointed the head of Iran’s investigation into the downing of the plane.
CBC said Rezaeifar was removed from his role after CBC emailed him a copy of the recording and requested a response on Thursday. Families of victims in the UK were informed of his removal, CBC said.
Iran has not officially announced Rezaeifar’s removal.
Closing the airspace over the capital Tehran could have given away Iran’s plans to strike US military bases in Iraq, Rezaeifar said in the recording.
“Some say we should have cleared the airspace … but let's say we had cleared the airspace. Wouldn’t [it] give away our imminent attack?” he said in the recording, according to CBC.
The audio recording is a new piece of evidence that shows the Iranian regime chose to keep civilian airliners full of people in the sky on a day of intense military activity, Payam Akhavan, a Canadian-Iranian international law professor at McGill University and former UN prosecutor at The Hague, told CBC.
“The senior leadership of the government willingly and knowingly disregarded these risks,” said Akhavan.
“This is not just a question of human error or mistake. It’s a question of criminal recklessness,” he said. “To knowingly put civilian aircraft in harm’s way, to use civilian airliners in effect as human shields, clearly implicates criminal responsibility.”
In the recording, Rezaeifar also said that he contacted the IRGC immediately after the plane crashed to inquire about the incident.
Rezaeifar said Amirali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, admitted over the phone that the military was ordered to shoot missiles due to national security concerns.
Iran denied it fired any missiles for days after the crash. The new audio recording indicates that Iranian authorities were aware from the beginning that missiles were fired at the plane, and that they tried to cover up shooting down the plane.