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U.S. officials: 'Highly likely' Iran downed Ukrainian jetliner

Last Updated Jan 9, 2020 at 3:08 pm EDT

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of a Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Two U.S. officials said Thursday 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 had no immediate information on intent.

President Donald Trump suggested that he believes Iran was responsible and wouldn’t directly lay the blame on Iran, but dismissed their claims that it was a mechanical issue — and denied any U.S. responsibility.

“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 crew of a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people on board, never made a radio call for help and was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning plane went down, an initial Iranian investigative report said Thursday. Ukraine, meanwhile, said it considered a missile strike as one of several possible theories for the crash, despite Iran’s denials.

The Iranian report suggests that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines early on Wednesday morning, when it crashed, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.

The British government says it is investigating “very concerning” reports about the crash. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office says “the reports we have seen are very concerning and we are urgently looking into them.”

Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday and called for “a full, credible and transparent investigation into what happened,” Downing Street said.