A Boeing 737-800 belonging to Ukraine International Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomenei International Airport on Wednesday morning.
All 176 people on board were killed. Most of the passengers held Iranian or Canadian citizenship.
The plane took off just hours after Iran launched a missile attack on U.S. bases in Iraq, in retaliation for the U.S.’s killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was the architect of Iranian war strategy in Syria and played a key role in developing militias in Iraq.
Iranian state media blamed the plane crash on a technical malfunction. The Ukrainian embassy in Tehran initially put up a statement saying the crash was due to a malfunction but later deleted that statement.
Ukrainian prime minister Oleksiy Honcharuk did not rule out the possibility that the plane had been shot down by a missile but warned against speculating before the results of an investigation were made public.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into the crash, while Ukraine International Airlines suspended all flights to Tehran indefinitely.
Iran had fired 15 ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. military personnel just hours before the flight’s takeoff. There were no U.S. or Iraqi casualties in the attacks, Iraqi security officials told CNN.
“The brave soldiers of IRGC’s aerospace unit have launched a successful attack with tens of ballistic missiles on Al-Asad military base in the name of martyr Gen. Qasem Soleimani,” the IRGC said in a statement.
The New York Times reported on Monday that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had demanded a direct Iranian attack on U.S. forces in response to Soleimani’s killing.