Iran Condemns U.S. After Warplane Fly-by Panics Civilian Airliner Passengers

Zarif says 'these outlaws must be stopped before disaster' after incident over Syria led to several passengers being moderately wounded

Reuters
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An image grab from a video released by state-run Iran Press news agency on July 24, 2020.
An image grab from a video released by state-run Iran Press news agency on July 24, 2020.Credit: AFP
Reuters

Iran on Friday dismissed a U.S. explanation that a U.S. jet was conducting a visual inspection when it "harassed" an Iranian civilian airliner, saying the plane was forced to rapidly change altitude to avoid collision, injuring and panicking passengers.

State TV video footage of the inside of the airliner shows a passenger lying immobile of the floor and another with a wounded nose and forehead, presenting his bloodied face mask to the camera.

An image from the state-run Iran Press news showing released oxygen mask in the cabin of an Iranian passenger plane after it was intercepted by a US F-15 while flying over Syria, on July 24, 2020.
An image from the state-run Iran Press news showing released oxygen mask in the cabin of an Iranian passenger plane after it was intercepted by a US F-15 while flying over Syria, on July 24, 2020.Credit: AFP

Several passengers, some seen screaming and shouting, on Thursday, according to Iranian media, but the U.S. military said its F-15 was at a safe distance.

The agency a single Israeli jet had come near the plane but later quoted the pilot as saying there were two jets that identified themselves as American.

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"The explanations provided so far are unjustified and unconvincing," Laya Joneydi, vice president for legal affairs, was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

"The harassment of a passenger plane on the territory of a third country is a clear violation of aviation security and freedom of civilian aircraft."

A crew member helps a passenger who fell over on an Iranian passenger plane after it was intercepted by a US F-15 while flying over Syria, on July 24, 2020.
A crew member helps a passenger who fell over on an Iranian passenger plane after it was intercepted by a US F-15 while flying over Syria, on July 24, 2020.Credit: AFP

The Iranian plane, belonging to Mahan Air, was heading from Tehran to Beirut when the pilot staged the safety manoeuvre. Iran's Foreign Ministry said the encounter would be investigated.

Video footage shows oxygen masks fallen from the overhead roof panels. One jet can be seen through a seat window flying some distance away in a clear blue sky.

"I saw a black plane approaching us, and then we lost our balance," one unidentified injured passenger told state TV.

"It was a jet. Almost so near our plane."

A passenger with blood dripping on his face, on an Iranian passenger plane after it was intercepted by a US F-15 while flying over Syria, on July 24, 2020.
A passenger with blood dripping on his face, on an Iranian passenger plane after it was intercepted by a US F-15 while flying over Syria, on July 24, 2020.Credit: AFP

One of the passengers was lying on the floor by the toilets and another passenger put a cushion under his head as cabin crew tended to others.

The U.S. military's Central Command, which oversees American troops in the region, said an F-15 aircraft was conducting a visual inspection of the Iranian plane when it passed near the Tanf garrison in Syria, home to U.S. forces.

Captain Bill Urban, the senior Central Command spokesman, said the jet was 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) from the airliner.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif slammed the U.S. on Twitter, commenting on the incident. 

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"U.S. illegally occupies territory of another State and then harasses a scheduled civil airliner – endangering innocent civilian passengers – ostensibly to protect its occupation forces," he wrote, adding "Audacity to compound lawlessness upon lawlessness, these outlaws must be stopped before disaster."

Tension has risen between Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump with six powers and reimposed sanctions that have battered Iran's economy.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that necessary legal and political actions would be taken. Iran's civilian aviation authority also was seeking to submit a formal protest to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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