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Canadian investigators to join plane crash probe, Iran says

Last Updated Jan 9, 2020 at 9:28 pm EST

Rescue workers inspect the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 8, 2020. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Ebrahim Noroozi

Iran’s civil aviation authority says it has invited Canadian investigators from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) to join a growing team probing the Ukraine Airlines plane crash outside Tehran that killed 138 people believed bound for Canada.

Late Thursday, the TSB issued a statement saying they have accepted the invitation from the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau of the Islamic Republic of Iran to attend the site.

Arrangements are being made for TSB officials to travel to Iran and they will be working with other groups and organizations already on site.

Among the hypotheses is that an Iranian air-defence missile shot the plane down, possibly by accident. Ukrainian officials have said that’s on their list of potential causes for the crash.

Two U.S. officials told The Associated Press Thursday it was “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed the jetliner. The officials, citing U.S. intelligence, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. They had no immediate information on intent.

President Donald Trump suggested that he believes Iran was responsible, without laying direct blame.

“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side,” Trump said in a Washington news conference, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighbourhood.”

“Some people say it was mechanical,” Trump added. “I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”

The announcement that Canadians will be involved in the examination came as Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne spoke to his Iranian counterpart about Wednesday’s crash.

A summary of the phone call released this morning by Global Affairs Canada says Champagne stressed to Mohammad Javad Zarif the need for Canadian officials to be allowed into Iran to provide consular services, help with identification of the deceased and to take part in the investigation.

His office said Champagne insisted that Canada and Canadians have “many questions which will need to be answered.”

The summary did not provide any details about Zarif’s reaction to Champagne’s demands and Champagne’s office declined to provide any further information.

It wasn’t clear from the Iranian statement if the plane’s manufacturer, American-based Boeing, had been invited to take part in the investigation under International Civil Aviation Organization rules that are guiding the probe.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that Canada had pushed to be part of the Iranian-led investigation of the crash near Tehran that killed everyone on board, including 138 people bound for Canada, at least 63 of whom were Canadian citizens.

Canada severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012, when it labelled the country a state sponsor of terrorism.

The crash came after a week of soaring tensions in the Middle East, occurring just hours after Iran launched missile attacks on bases in Iraq where American and allied troops are stationed. Iran said the attacks were retaliation for the American killing of a top general near Baghdad last week.

Champagne also told Zarif that Canada and Canadians have many questions about the crash, which killed 138 people who were en route to Canada. He also condemned Iran’s missile attacks against military bases in Iraq where U.S. troops have been stationed. Canadian soldiers were present in one of those bases.

The Iranian attack was retaliation for the American killing of a top general near Baghdad last week.