Ali Abedzadeh, the head of the Iran’s national aviation department, denied allegations that an Iranian missile shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, in a Jan. 10, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Back plane crash allegations with data, Iranian official tells Canada and U.S.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran is calling on Canada and the United States to release information backing their allegations that a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran was brought down by an Iranian missile, killing all 176 people on board.

Ali Abedzadeh, the head of the Iran’s national aviation department, denied those allegations Friday in a news conference in Tehran.

“What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane,” Abedzadeh said.

“If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world” in accordance with international standards, he added.

The official’s comments come after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that intelligence from multiple sources indicates the Ukraine International Airlines flight was downed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, echoing statements from Ukrainian officials and U.S. President Donald Trump earlier in the day.

Both Trudeau and Trump said a strike might have been unintentional.

The plane crash Wednesday morning claimed the lives of at least 63 Canadians. Trudeau has said 138 of the 176 passengers aboard the Kyiv-bound plane had a connecting flight to Canada. It happened hours after Iran launched a series of ballistic missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general in an American airstrike last week.

Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of Iranian investigation team, said Friday that recovering data from the black box flight recorders could take more than a month and that the entire investigation could stretch into next year.

He also said Iran may request help from international experts if it is not able to extract the flight recordings.

The state-run IRNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Iran “has invited both Ukraine and the Boeing company to participate in the investigations.” The spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said it will also welcome experts from other countries’ whose citizens died in the crash.

Iran had initially said it would not allow Boeing to take part in the probe, going against prevailing international norms on crash investigations. It later invited the U.S. accident-investigating agency to take part in the investigation.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday that Canada would offer technical assistance in the crash investigation and the Transportation Safety Board said it appointed an expert to monitor the progress of the Iranian investigation.

The Canadian agency also said in a statement Thursday that it accepted an invitation from Iranian investigators to attend the crash site and is making arrangements to travel there.

Meanwhile, mounting questions surrounding the circumstances of the crash fuelled confusion, fear and anger among those in Canada grieving the deaths of loved ones.

Bijan Ahmadi, an Iranian-Canadian in Toronto and the executive director of the not-for-profit organization Peace and Diplomacy, said in an interview Thursday that the community needs answers, particularly in light of the claims of an Iranian missile strike.

“I’m speechless to explain that,” he said. ”If that is the case, it will be very difficult for Iranian people to absorb that, to accept that. The impact is huge.”

Hundreds of people attended vigils Thursday night for the victims in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and other communities.

And mourning continues today with memorial services planned at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and the University of Windsor. Both schools lost students and faculty in the crash.

Another memorial service is also planned Sunday at the University of Alberta.

— With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2020.

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