US orders more Iran sanctions, confronts doubts about threat

US, Canada blame unintentional missile strike for Ukrainian jet crash

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump ordered new economic sanctions against Iran Friday, even as officials faced persistent questions over the killing of an Iranian general that helped ignite the latest crisis with the Islamic Republic.

U.S. officials also say the U.S. military tried, but failed, to take out another senior Iranian commander on the same day that an American airstrike killed the Revolutionary Guard’s top general.

The officials say a military airstrike targeted Abdul Reza Shahla’i, a high-ranking commander in Iran’s Islamic Republican Guard Corps but the mission was not successful.

The new sanctions target senior Iranian officials and important sectors of the economy as Iran is already straining from U.S. economic pressure.

Administration officials say the action will deprive Iran of revenue it could use to further destabilize the Middle East.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin brief reporters about additional sanctions placed on Iran, at the White House, Friday, Jan. 10, 2019, in Washington.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin brief reporters about additional sanctions placed on Iran, at the White House, Friday, Jan. 10, 2019, in Washington. (Source: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci/AP)

The administration, however, is itself accused of destabilizing the region as it gives shifting explanations for killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday the new sanctions will target eight senior Iranian officials as well as companies in the steel and other sectors.

Iran this week launched the strikes in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleiman, the country’s most powerful commander, in Baghdad last week.

Trump and his top officials are offering a string of fresh explanations for this week’s U.S. military action in the Middle East.

Confronted by persistent questions about justifications, Trump said that Soleimani and others were planning major attacks on four U.S. embassies.

But Trump and Pompeo continued to rebuff questions about what they mean when they say those attacks were “imminent.”

The U.S. is also promising to take “appropriate action” in response to its assessment that an Iranian missile was responsible for downing a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran.

Iran denies that one of its missiles hit a Ukrainian airplane that crashed near Tehran this week, killing all 176 aboard.

Western leaders say the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

The crash came after Iran launched ballistic missiles on two American bases in Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. killing of its top general in a drone strike. Pompeo said Friday the U.S. believes the plane was likely shot down by an Iranian missile.

Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s foreign minister, says his country’s investigators have been given access to the flight data recorders that were recovered from the wreckage of a Ukrainian plane that went down in Iran.

Canada grieves

Canadians are struggling to come to terms with how the killing of an Iranian general last week in a U.S. drone strike may have led to the deaths of dozens of their citizens in a plane crash.

The Ukrainian International Airlines jet that crashed just after taking off from Tehran’s main airport Wednesday. Among the 176 people it was carrying 176 people, 138 passengers were on their way to Canada and at least 63 Canadians. All were killed.

By late Thursday, Western leaders said Iran had most likely shot down the plane with a missile amid the tension. They said it was probably an accident.

Iran is calling on the U.S. and Canada to release data backing their allegations.

If the U.S. and Canada provide proof that a missile downed the Ukrainian plane, it could inflame public opinion in Iran after many rallied around authorities following the U.S. strike that killed Iran’s top general last week.

The Western allegation that Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner and offers a grim echo for the Islamic Republic, which found itself the victim of an accidental shootdown by American forces over 30 years ago.

The July 3, 1988 downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. Navy remains one of the moments the Iranian government points to in its decades-long distrust of America.

They rank it alongside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that toppled its elected prime minister and secured Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s absolute power until he abdicated the throne before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The dead includes many from the Iranian community and many from the city's university.
The dead includes many from the Iranian community and many from the city's university. (Source: CBC News/CNN)

Verified videos show plane in Iran struck before fiery crash

In the pitch black, pre-dawn sky on the outskirts of the Iranian capital Tehran, a tiny fast-moving light can be seen racing up through the trees, as someone films from the ground. Then there is a flash of light as it seems to collide with something in the air.

It is the ill-fated Ukrainian International airliner which had taken off Wednesday just hours after Iran had fired missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq in retaliation for the slaying of its top military man, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Western leaders have said the plane seemed to have been unintentionally brought down by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran. Iran denies that a missile was to blame for the crash.

Videos verified by The Associated Press show the final seconds of the jet and what likely brought it down, killing all 176 people on board.

One video seems to show the impact. Buildings can be seen from ground level below the darkened sky as the tiny light arches upward, then the flash. The scene is silent, except for a dog barking nearby. Then 10 seconds later, there is a frightening boom, like loud thunder.

A second video appears to show the plane on fire and crashing. A white blaze plummets downward across the black sky, sometimes letting off sparks. Then it disappears behind trees, and a huge fireball lights up the sky as it hits the earth.

Someone off-camera says in Farsi "The plane has caught fire. Shahriar. Ferdosieh. In the name of God the compassionate, the merciful. God please help us. Call the fire department!" The names are two suburbs of Tehran near the airport.

Another clip, filmed from inside a traveling car at distance, shows a pinpoint fiery light moving at speed. This footage then shows the plane exploding far on the horizon, illuminating the darkened sky.

As part of the verification process, the AP compared buildings in view with map locations and in the precise context of where the jet went off the radar.

U.S. and Canadian accident investigators are uncertain how much access they will get to evidence that could prove whether Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, and there are fears that the probe might already be compromised by the removal of wreckage from the crash site.

Evidence that the Boeing 737 was brought down by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile, as the U.S. and its allies allege, could be extracted from its black box recorders, which could capture the sound of an explosion, and from an examination of its pieces for such things as shrapnel holes, burn marks or explosive residue.

Ukraine president in bind

As allegations and denials swirl over what caused the fatal crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran, Ukraine’s president is caught in the middle.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday appealed to Western countries to present evidence for their claims a day earlier that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed the plane, killing all 176 people on board.

Zelenskiy appears to be following an astute strategy for damage control.

Ukraine knows all too well how an air catastrophe can stir up a maelstrom of disinformation. The crash Wednesday is the third time in 20 years that Ukraine has had links to the violent destruction of a civilian plane.


Associated Press journalist Nadia Ahmed in London contributed to this report.

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