Plane Crash: Lufthansa Cancels Tehran Flights Until Jan 20

A file photo taken on February 18, 2019 shows parked planes at the Lufthansa terminal of the Franz-Josef-Strauss airport in Munich, southern Germany.  PHOTO: Christof STACHE / AFP

 

Lufthansa on Friday said it was canceling all flights to and from Tehran, Iran’s capital until January 20, following suggestions that Iran may have mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane earlier this week.

The German group, which also owns Austrian Airlines, said the flight ban was “due to the unclear security situation for the airspace around Tehran airport”.

All 176 people on board died when the Ukrainian International Airlines plane went down near Tehran on Wednesday, shortly after Iran launched missiles at US forces in Iraq over the killing of a top Iranian general.

American, British and Canadian officials say intelligence sources indicate Iran shot down the plane, perhaps unintentionally, but this has been denied by Tehran.

Several airlines had already announced they would avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace as tensions in the region soared.

A Lufthansa flight between Frankfurt and Tehran on Thursday turned back an hour after takeoff because of security concerns.

Austrian Airlines meanwhile said late Thursday that its flight to Tehran that day was ordered to return to Vienna after a stopover in Sofia.

AFP

Iran In ‘Shock’ Over Missing Female Olympic Medallist

In this file photo taken on August 26, 2016 Keivan Alizadeh (R) the father of Kimia Alizadeh who became the first Iranian woman ever to win an Olympic medal, shows her medal upon her arrival at Imam Khomeini International Airport in tcapital Tehran. peyman / ISNA / AFP

 

 

Concern mounted Thursday in Iran over the fate of the Islamic republic’s only woman to have won an Olympic medal, who is believed to want to settle in The Netherlands.

Kimia Alizadeh clinched a taekwondo bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, drawing praise from her compatriots including the country’s President Hassan Rouhani and even conservatives in the Islamic republic.

In keeping with Iran’s strict Muslim custom, Alizadeh, then 18, competed wearing a headscarf over her taekwondo uniform and protective gear.

There were high hopes she would compete at the Tokyo Olympics later this year and bring home another medal, but it appears this is not to be.

The semi-official ISNA news agency on Thursday carried a report saying: “Shock for Iran’s Taekwondo. Kimia Alizadeh has emigrated to The Netherlands.”

According to ISNA, the coach of the women’s national team said that Alizadeh is suffering from an injury.

It said Alizadeh did not show up for trials ahead of the Tokyo Games.

Isna and several other media believe that Alizadeh, who is reportedly training in The Netherlands, is hoping to compete in Tokyo but not under the Iranian flag.

A poor quality picture posted on the internet, and showing a woman who is believed to be Alizadeh without a headscarf and mixing with a group of young men and women, has sparked tens of thousands of comments.

And the hashtag #Kimia_Alizadeh was one of the most-shared Thursday on Twitter in Farsi.

Tansin news agency, which is close to ultra-conservative groups, questioned why the taekwondo federation and Alizadeh’s family “have not yet reacted to confirm or deny the stunning development” of her defection.

Iranian MP Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh, meanwhile, demanded answers, accusing those he described as the “incompetent officials” of allowing Iran’s “human capital to flee” the country.

He drew a comparison between Alizadeh and Iranian chess prodigy Alireza Firouzja who won the grandmaster title at age 14, two years after winning the Iranian chess championship, and who now lives in France.

If Alizadeh fails to represent Iran at the Tokyo Olympics it would be a huge blow for the Islamic republic.

Along with judo, taekwondo is one of Iran’s sporting strengths.

Last year, the International Judo Federation suspended Iran from international competition over its refusal to allow its fighters to face judokas from Israel which the Islamic republic does not recognise.

Iran Civil Aviation Boss ‘Certain’ Ukraine Plane Not Hit By Missile

 

Iran’s civil aviation chief Ali Abedzadeh said Friday he was “certain” a Ukrainian airliner which crashed outside Tehran this week was not hit by a missile.

READ ALSO: US Strike Kills Taliban Splinter Commander In Herat

“One thing is for certain, this airplane was not hit by a missile,” Abedzadeh told a news conference in Tehran after Britain and Canada both said intelligence sources suggested a catastrophic error by Iranian air defence batteries had downed the aircraft.

Iran Says Ukrainian Plane Turned Back Before Crashing

An engine lies on the ground after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. AFP

 

Iranian authorities have said a Ukrainian airliner, which crashed outside Tehran with the loss of all 176 people on board, turned back after suffering a problem, as Ukrainian experts joined the investigation Thursday.

Both Canada and the United States called for a full investigation to determine the cause of Wednesday’s crash, which came shortly after Tehran launched missiles at US troops in Iraq in response to the killing of a top Iranian general in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

There was no immediate indication that foul play may have caused the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) plane to go down soon after take-off, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against speculating on the crash causes.

“The plane, which was initially headed west to leave the airport zone, turned right following a problem and was headed back to the airport at the moment of the crash,” the Iranian Civil Aviation Organisation said on its website late Wednesday.

“The plane disappeared from radar screens the moment it reached 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). The pilot sent no radio message about the unusual circumstances.

“According to eyewitnesses, a fire was seen onboard the plane which grew in intensity,” the organisation added, reporting the first findings of its investigation into the crash.

The organisation said it had questioned witnesses both on the ground and onboard a second aircraft which was flying above the Ukrainian Boeing 737 as the disaster unfolded.

Santa doll in the wreckage

Heartbreaking details started emerging about the victims, most of them from Iran and Canada.

Body bags were lined up on the ground, and the passengers’ personal items — including luggage, clothes, a Santa Claus doll, and a boxing glove — were scattered in the debris.

According to Ukraine, 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons were on board, as well as 11 Ukrainians — including nine crew.

About 30 came from the Iranian community around Edmonton, capital of Alberta province in western Canada, where resident Payman Parseyan described the tragedy as “devastating”.

“Every one of our community members was touched in one way or another,” Parseyan told Canada’s national broadcaster CBC.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his “sincere condolences” to the bereaved families.

No cooperation with US

Iran’s civil aviation chief, Ali Abedzadeh, said Iran would cooperate with Ukraine, but not send the black boxes to the United States, with which it has had no diplomatic relations for four decades.

Without naming Iran directly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement calling for “complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash”.

According to aviation experts, only a handful of countries are capable of analysing black boxes — notably Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would ensure a “thorough investigation” and that “Canadians’ questions are answered”.

The country is home to a large Iranian diaspora, and UIA offers relatively inexpensive flights between Toronto and Tehran, with a layover in Kiev.

UIA, the ex-Soviet country’s privately owned main carrier, said flight PS752 took off from Tehran airport at 6:10 am and disappeared from radars minutes later.

It slammed into farmland at Khalaj Abad, in Shahriar county, about 45 kilometres (just under 30 miles) northwest of the airport, Iranian state media said.

A video aired by Iran’s state broadcaster appeared to show the plane already on fire as it fell.

The airline said the Boeing 737 had been built in 2016 and checked only two days before the accident. It was UIA’s first fatal crash.

Grief And Mourning After Iran plane Crash Kills 176

 

 

Bereaved friends and families joined in mourning after a Ukrainian airliner crashed near Tehran killing all 176 onboard, as heartbreaking details started emerging about the victims, most of them from Iran and Canada.

Both Canada and the United States called for a full investigation to determine the cause of Wednesday’s crash, which came shortly after Tehran launched missiles at American troops in Iraq in response to the killing of a top Iranian general.

There was no immediate indication that foul play may have caused the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) plane to go down soon after take-off, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against speculating on the crash causes.

Search-and-rescue teams combed through the smoking wreckage of the Boeing 737 flight to Kiev, but officials said there was no hope of finding survivors.

Body bags were lined up on the ground, and the passengers’ personal items — including luggage, clothes, a Santa Claus doll, and a boxing glove — were scattered in the debris.

At least 25 of the passengers were under the age of 18, the UIA said.

According to Ukraine, 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons were on board, as well as 11 Ukrainians — including nine crew.

About 30 came from the Iranian community around Edmonton, capital of Alberta province in western Canada, where resident Payman Parseyan described the tragedy as “devastating.”

“Every one of our community members was touched in one way or another,” Parseyan told Canada’s national broadcaster CBC.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his “sincere condolences” to the bereaved families.

The head of Iran’s civil aviation organisation, Ali Abedzadeh, said Iran would cooperate with Ukraine, but not send the black boxes to the US, with which it has no diplomatic relations.

Without naming Iran directly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement calling for “complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash.”

According to aviation experts, only a handful of countries are capable of analyzing black boxes — notably Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.

– Iranian diaspora –
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would ensure a “thorough investigation” and that “Canadians’ questions are answered”.

The country is home to a large Iranian diaspora, and UIA offers relatively inexpensive flights between Toronto and Tehran, with a layover in Kiev.

“About an hour ago, a Ukrainian Airlines plane just landed in Toronto from Kiev,” Trudeau said at a press conference. “According to the airline, there were 138 passengers who weren’t on that flight because they died in the crash on the earlier leg of their travel.”

The Edmonton victims included a couple of university professors and their two young girls, aged 9 and 14.

“Many of these people were international students,” said Parseyan. “They worked tirelessly to get to where they were, all to lose it like this.”

Siavash Ghafouri-Azar, 35, and Sara Mamani, 36, were coming home from their wedding in Iran, according to The Globe and Mail newspaper.

Hamed Esmaeilion, an Iranian-born dentist, told the paper he had been due to pick up his wife and nine-year-old daughter from the Toronto airport.

Instead, he was heading to Tehran in search of answers after both perished in the crash.

“I have to go. I’m alone here,” he said.

‘Wonderful crew’

UIA, the ex-Soviet country’s privately owned main carrier, said flight PS752 took off from Tehran airport at 6:10 am (0240 GMT) and disappeared from radars minutes later.

It slammed into farmland at Khalaj Abad, in Shahriar county, about 45 kilometres (just under 30 miles) northwest of the airport, Iranian state media said.

A video aired by Iran’s state broadcaster appeared to show the plane already on fire as it fell.

The airline said the Boeing 737 had been built in 2016 and checked only two days before the accident. It was UIA’s first fatal crash.

“The plane was in working order,” company president Yevgeniy Dykhne told a briefing in Kiev where he choked back tears. “It was one of our best planes with a wonderful crew.”

UIA vice president Igor Sosnovskiy likewise said chances of a crew error were “minimal”.

Dozens of people gathered in the departure hall at Boryspil airport outside Kiev to pay their respects to the crew, five men and four women.

‘Catastrophic breakup’?

“There is a lot of speculation at the moment it has been shot down — I think that is not going to be the case at all,” said Stephen Wright, a professor of aircraft systems at Tampere University in Finland.

“It could be a bomb or it could be some sort of catastrophic breakup of the aircraft.”

Trudeau said he was unable to rule out foul play, but added: “It’s dangerous to speculate on possible causes.”

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the flight’s takeoff was normal.

“However, we lost contact with it, suggesting that something very unusual happened,” he said.

The aircraft was not one of the MAX models fitted with anti-stall systems that have been linked with two other recent crashes of Boeing 737s.

Boeing said it was ready to help in any way needed.

Iran Threatens To Attack Israel And US Allies

Protesters hold pictures of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, during a demonstration outside the US consulate in Istanbul, on January 5, 2020, two days after top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed by a US drone strike.

 

 

Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday threatened to attack the US and its allies after Tehran said it carried out a night-time missile strike against US forces in Iraq.

The group urged Washington to recall its troops from the region “in order to avoid further losses and not to allow the lives of their soldiers to be further threatened by the ever-growing hatred” of the US.

More details shortly.

Magnitude 4.5 Quake Hits Near Iran Nuclear Power Plant

 

 

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake on Wednesday rattled an area less than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant near the country’s Gulf coast, a US monitor said.

The quake, which had a depth of 10 kilometres, struck 17 kilometres south-southeast of Borazjan city at 6:49 am (0319 GMT), the US Geological Survey said on its website.

State news agency IRNA said the earthquake was felt in Bushehr, site of the country’s sole nuclear power plant.

So far, there were no reports of any deaths or damage, IRNA said, citing Jahangir Dehghani, the head of Bushehr’s crisis management centre.

The latest quake comes exactly a fortnight after a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit the same area, without causing any casualties or major damage.

The Bushehr plant, which produces 1,000 megawatts of power, was completed by Russia after years of delay and officially handed over in September 2013.

In 2016, Russian and Iranian firms began building two additional 1,000-megawatt reactors at Bushehr. Their construction was expected to take 10 years.

176 Killed As Boeing 737 Plane Crashes In Iran

 

All 176 people on board a Ukrainian passenger plane were killed when it crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran on Wednesday, Iranian state media reported.

State news agency IRNA said 167 passengers and nine crew members were onboard the aircraft operated by Ukraine International Airlines.

READ ALSO: Iran Fires Over A Dozen Missiles On Iraq Base Housing US Troops

“Obviously it is impossible that passengers” on flight PS-752 are alive, the head of Red Crescent told semi-official news agency ISNA, putting the number of people on board at 170.

The Boeing 737 had left Tehran’s international airport bound for Kiev, the agency said, adding that 10 ambulances were sent to the crash site.

Iran Claims 80 Americans Killed By Missiles

Screenshot of missiles fired at an Iraq military bases used by US Troops. AFP

 

Iranian state television claimed that Wednesday missile strikes on bases in Iraq killed 80 Americans, in a report citing what it called an informed Revolutionary Guards source.

Iran launched 22 missiles overnight at the Iraqi bases used by US and other US-led coalition troops, the Iraqi army said.

“At least 80 American military (personnel) were killed in this attack,” the state television website reported.

In addition, it said, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and other military equipment had been severely damaged in the attack.

READ ALSO: Trump Says ‘All Is Well’ After Iranian Missiles Target US Troops

The Revolutionary Guards source said at least 140 targets of the US and their allies had been identified in the region and would be attacked “if the Americans commit any kind of mistake again”.

The source said 15 missiles hit Ain Al-Assad base and none was intercepted by “radars of America’s terrorist army”.

It was the first action of Iran’s promised revenge for the US killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq last week.

‘Revenge, Revenge’: Black-Clad Iranians Mourn General Killed By US

 

 

Black-clad mourners packed Iran’s second city Mashhad on Sunday as the remains of top general Qasem Soleimani were paraded through the streets after he was killed in a US strike.

“Iran’s wearing black, revenge, revenge,” they chanted as darkness fell and they followed a truck carrying Soleimani’s coffin towards the floodlit Imam Reza shrine.

The mourners threw scarves onto the roof of the truck so that they could be blessed by the “blood of the martyr”.

Soleimani, who spearheaded Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad airport. He was 62.

The attack was ordered by President Donald Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and forces in Iraq.

Soleimani’s remains had been returned before dawn to the southwestern city of Ahvaz, where the air resonated with Shiite chants and shouts of “Death to America” during a procession.

People held aloft portraits of Soleimani, one of the country’s most popular public figures who is seen as a hero of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

The “million-man” turnout in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, forced the cancellation of a Sunday night ceremony in Tehran, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who urged citizens instead to attend a memorial Monday at Tehran University.

In the face of growing Iraqi anger over the strike, the country’s parliament Sunday urged the government to oust the roughly 5,200 American troops in Iraq.

Soleimani’s assassination ratcheted up tensions between arch-enemies Tehran and Washington and sparked fears of a new Middle East war.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” and declared three days of mourning.

Late Saturday Trump warned that America would target 52 sites “important to Iran & Iranian culture” and hit them “very fast and very hard” if American personnel or assets were attacked.

‘Terrorist in a suit’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME”.

Iran’s army chief said Trump’s threat was an attempt to distract the world from Soleimani’s “unjustifiable” assassination.

“I doubt they have the courage to initiate” a conflict, said Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi.

Iran’s communications minister, Mohammad Javad Jahromi, branded Trump a “terrorist in a suit” in a Twitter post.

Khamenei’s military adviser, Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, told CNN that Iran’s response to the assassination “for sure will be military and against military sites”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted there was a “real likelihood” of an Iranian attack on US soldiers, warning however “it would be a big mistake”.

In Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, insisted the “price” for Soleimani’s killing would be attacks on “US military bases, US warships, each and every officer and soldier in the region”.

US-Iran tensions escalated in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark accord that gave Tehran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

A year on, Iran began hitting back by reducing its nuclear commitments with a series of steps every 60 days, the most recent deadline passing on Saturday.

Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Tehran would finalise the fifth step in a meeting on Sunday night, noting the nature of its move was altered by Soleimani’s killing.

In Tehran, deputies chanted “Death to America” for a few minutes during a regular session of parliament.

“Trump, this is the voice of the Iranian nation, listen,” said speaker Ali Larijani.

Soleimani’s remains and those of five other Iranians — all Guards members — killed in the US drone strike had arrived at Ahvaz airport before dawn, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

With them were the remains of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella group, who was also killed in the strike.

Soleimani’s remains are due to be flown to the capital, where Khamenei is expected to pray over them at Tehran University on Monday before a procession to Azadi Square.

They will then be taken to the holy city of Qom for a ceremony at Masumeh shrine, ahead of a funeral Tuesday in his hometown Kerman.

Cyber attack

In neighbouring Iraq, pro-Iran factions ramped up pressure on US installations with missiles and warnings to Iraq’s troops late Saturday.

In the first hints of a possible retaliatory response, two mortar rounds struck Saturday near the US embassy in Baghdad, security sources said.

Almost simultaneously, two rockets slammed into the Al-Balad airbase where American troops are deployed.

Iraq said there were no casualties. The US military also said no coalition troops were hurt.

In another possible act of retaliation, hackers claiming to be from Iran breached the website of a little-known US government agency and threatened more cyber attacks.

Iran Cancels Soleimani Ceremony In Tehran After Huge Turnout In Second City

 

Iran has cancelled a Tehran ceremony on Sunday night to honour slain general Qasem Soleimani due to an overwhelming turnout by mourners in second city Mashhad, the Revolutionary Guards said.

“Considering the glorious, intense and million-man presence of the revolutionary people of Mashhad in the ceremony to bid farewell to Islam and Iran’s great general Qasem Soleimani and since the program is still continuing… it is not possible to hold the event in Tehran,” the Guards said.

The statement called on people to attend a ceremony scheduled to take place at Tehran University on Monday.

Iran Says To Forego ‘Limit’ On Nuclear Enrichment Centrifuges

 

Iran on Sunday announced its fifth step back from a nuclear deal saying it will forego the “limit on the number of centrifuges”, amid mounting tensions with the United States.

In a statement, Tehran said it would continue cooperating “as before” with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the implementation of the nuclear deal.

The announcement came after a US drone strike Friday killed top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, sparking fury in Iran which has vowed to avenge his death.

The nuclear accord between Iran and the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany was agreed in 2015.

It has been hanging by a thread since the US withdrawal in May 2018, despite efforts to salvage it led by the three European nations that remain parties to the deal along with China and Russia.

On Saturday, France urged Iran to stick to the landmark 2015 nuclear accord.

“France fully shares with Germany the central objective of de-escalation and preservation of the Vienna (nuclear) accord,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

With China, “we, in particular, noted our agreement… to urge Iran to avoid any new violation of the Vienna accord,” he added.

And the European Union said Sunday it had invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Brussels for talks