Two years ago, in the early morning of January 8, 2020, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired two surface-to-air missiles and destroyed Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 shortly after takeoff near Tehran.
Then-officials such as Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif, Cabinet Spokesperson Ali Rabi’ei, and current head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Eslami initially rejected any responsibility. They claimed that the plane crashed due to a ‘human error.’
“It is technically impossible for the Ukrainian plane to explode due to a missile impact,” the official IRNA news agency quoted then-chief of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization Ali Abedzadeh as saying on January 9, 2020. “The plane did not hit the ground nose-first. After taking off, the plane was thrown to another place, which indicates that the pilot noticed the fire on the plane and had tried to bring it to the ground.”
However, only three days after the crime, IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir-Ali Hajizadeh admitted to the IRGC’s role in downing the commercial plane and killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. “In the first hours that I was informed (Wednesday morning), I informed my superiors,” Hajizadeh said, trying to evade responsibility. “It was a ‘human error.’”
Following Hajizadeh’s admission, thousands of students flooded the streets of Tehran and protested officials’ lying and concealing the truth for three days. “Death to the liar,” protesters chanted.
However, slogans immediately turned into anti-establishment ones against the high-ranking officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then-President Hassan Rouhani. Protesters also slammed former chief of IRGC-Quds Force Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a drone strike at Baghdad international airport five days earlier.
“Death to Khamenei,” “Death to Rouhani,” “IRGC is our ISIS,” and “Soleimani is a murderer, and so is his leader,” students chanted in their gathering outside the Amir Kabir University in solidarity with the families of the Ukrainian flight PS752 victims. “Our enemy is right here; they lie in saying it’s America,” “The incompetent IRGC is a disgrace for the nation,” “Fight, and we will fight back,” and “I will kill he who killed my brother.”
Authorities responded to protesters with tear gas and birdshot guns. They also arrested many students and sentenced several of them to long-term imprisonment. However, they could not quell public hatred and fury of mourning families.
In May 2021, Judge Edward Belobaba of the Ontario Supreme Court in Canada ruled that the destruction of the commercial plane shortly after takeoff in Tehran was a deliberate act of terrorism. In this context, an Ontario court has awarded $107 million, plus interest, to the families of six people killed in the crash of Ukraine International Flight 752.
Iranian authorities have rejected the ruling and claimed to have launched an investigation into the case. However, after more than two years, their dubious probe has yet to find anyone responsible.
Regarding Hajizadeh’s admission about informing his superiors, the killing of 176 innocent passengers and concealing the crime was not seemingly a rogue decision. In truth, high-ranking officials are involved in the crime, which is the main reason for Tehran’s avoidance of a fair and international trial.