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Iranian airliner goes into nose-dive when pair of US fighter jets ‘came too close over Syria’

An Iranian passenger plane flying over Syria went into a nose-dive after nearly colliding with two US fighter jets, Iran’s state news agency claimed today.

The official IRIB agency initially reported a single Israeli jet had flown near the plane but later quoted the pilot as saying there were two self-identified US jets.   

The pilot of the civilian airliner contacted the jet pilots to warn them about keeping a safe distance and the jet pilots identified themselves as American, IRIB reported.

Video posted by the agency showed a single jet from the window of the plane and comments from a passenger who had blood on his face.

The Iranian plane, belonging to regime-owned Mahan Air, was heading from Tehran to Beirut and landed safely in Lebanon, an airport source told Reuters.

Israel and the United States have long accused blacklisted airliner Mahan Air of ferrying weapons for Iranian-linked guerrillas in Syria and elsewhere. 

The near-miss today comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US following the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January. 

The official IRIB agency initially reported a single Israeli jet had flown near the plane but later quoted the pilot as saying there were two self-identified US jets

The pilot of the civilian airliner contacted the jet pilots to warn them about keeping a safe distance and the jet pilots identified themselves as American, IRIB reported

The pilot of the civilian airliner contacted the jet pilots to warn them about keeping a safe distance and the jet pilots identified themselves as American, IRIB reported

One passenger in the IRIB report described how his head hit the roof of the plane during the nose-dive and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor

One passenger in the IRIB report described how his head hit the roof of the plane during the nose-dive and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor

One passenger in the IRIB report described how his head hit the roof of the plane during the nose-dive and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor

One passenger in the IRIB report described how his head hit the roof of the plane during the nose-dive and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor.

All of the passengers came off the plane and only some had minor injuries, the head of the Beirut airport told Reuters.  

Mahan Air has been under US sanctions since 2011 for allegedly providing support to Iran’s elite Quds Force, which backs Hezbollah and other terror groups overseas. 

An Israeli military spokesman had no immediate comment and there was no immediate comment from the US military. 

The official IRIB agency initially reported a single Israeli jet had flown near the plane but later quoted the pilot as saying there were two self-identified US jets (pictured, stock photo of F-15 Eagle fighter jets in close formation from RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk)

The official IRIB agency initially reported a single Israeli jet had flown near the plane but later quoted the pilot as saying there were two self-identified US jets (pictured, stock photo of F-15 Eagle fighter jets in close formation from RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk)

Mahan Air has been under US sanctions since 2011 for allegedly providing support to Iran's elite Quds Force, which backs Hezbollah and other terror groups overseas. An Israeli military spokesman had no immediate comment and there was no immediate comment from the US

Mahan Air has been under US sanctions since 2011 for allegedly providing support to Iran’s elite Quds Force, which backs Hezbollah and other terror groups overseas. An Israeli military spokesman had no immediate comment and there was no immediate comment from the US

One passenger in the IRIB report described how his head hit the roof of the plane during the nose-dive and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor

One passenger in the IRIB report described how his head hit the roof of the plane during the nose-dive and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor

Western sanctions on Mahan Air since 2011 

December 2011 – 

The US designated Mahan Air a material and transportation supporter of terrorism: ‘Based in Tehran, Mahan Air provides transportation, funds transfers and personnel travel services to the IRGC-QF.’

April 2016 – 

Mahan Air was banned from flying over Saudi Arabian airspace.

2015-2018 – 

Mahan Air significantly expand its operations and fleet. Mahan Air targets the transfer business between Asia, especially China, and European destinations. In 2016, besides Germany and Denmark, Mahan Air started service to Milan and Athens; and to Barcelona the following year. It operated up to 15 weekly flights to China until late 2018.

2019 –  

In January, the German government banned Mahan Air from landing in Germany, where it formerly served Munich Airport and Düsseldorf Airport, citing Mahan’s involvement in Syria and security concerns. France imposed the same ban in March 2019, and Mahan Air was forced to cancel its four-weekly service to Paris.

In November, the Italian government also announced that the country would ban Mahan Air flights to the country from December 15, 2019. The move came after Mike Pompeo’s visit to Rome, during which he urged Italian officials to stop allowing Iranian airlines to use Italy’s airspace.

The remaining destinations within the EU had been Barcelona and seasonally also Athens and Varna since then. However, in April 2020 the airline lost its traffic rights to Spain as well. 

Mahan Air has been linked to alleged shipments of arms from Iran to Shiite groups in Syria, including Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria have been thought to target Mahan Air weapons shipments in the past, according to The Times of Israel.

In May the US government slapped sanctions on a Chinese company over its alleged business ties to the airliner. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted at the time: ‘China is one of the few countries that still welcomes Mahan Air, an airline used to ferry Iran’s arms and terrorists. Today’s designation of a China-based company exacts consequences for that decision.

‘Anyone doing business with Mahan Air runs the risk of sanctions.’

At the time a Treasury Department state said the sanctioned firm, Shanghai Saint Logistics Limited, served as a general service agent to Mahan, providing various services on the airline’s behalf such as freight booking.  

Steven Mnuchin said: ‘The Iranian regime is using Mahan Air to support an illegitimate and corrupt regime in Venezuela, just as it has done for the regime in Syria and for terrorist proxy groups throughout the Middle East.’

In April Mr Pompeo claimed ‘multiple aircraft’ belonging to Mahan Air had transferred ‘unknown support’ to the Venezuelan government, and called for a halt to the flights and for other countries to bar overflights by Mahan Air.

The Associated Press reported that Mahan Air was delivering key chemical components used for producing gasoline to help revive an ageing refinery in the Latin American country, which is in the grip of a severe economic crisis. 

Both Iran and socialist Venezuela are under heavy US sanctions, and have had close relations for the last two decades.

The incident today comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US following the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January.

Iran executed Mahmoud Mousavi Majd, a translator accused of being a US and Israeli spy who helped the US kill Soleimani in a drone strike, on Monday, according to Iran’s judiciary.

Majd had been found guilty of receiving large amounts of money from the CIA and Mossad to supply information on the Quds force, which Soleimani headed, including the whereabouts of its commander. 

However, Majd was not directly involved in the killing of Soleimani at Baghdad airport on January 3, having been arrested two years ago. 

It comes a week after defence worker Reza Asgari was put to death after being accused of selling secret information about Iran’s missile program to the US. 

Mahmoud Mousavi Majd

Qassem Soleimani

Mahmoud Mousavi Majd (left), a translator who worked with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has been executed for helping the US carry out the raid which killed Qassem Soleimani (right)

Iran admits panicky missile operators shot down airliner with 176 aboard after rocket attack on US bases in Iraq 

A misaligned missile battery, miscommunication between troops and their commanders and a decision to fire without authorisation all led to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shooting down a Ukrainian jetliner in January, according to a new report.

Released late on Saturday by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation, it comes months after the January 8 crash near Tehran that killed all 176 people on board.

Authorities had initially denied responsibility, only changing course days later after Western nations presented extensive evidence that Iran had shot down the plane.

The report may signal a new phase in the investigation into the crash as the aircraft’s black box flight recorder is due to be sent to Paris, where international investigators will finally be able to examine it. 

The incident happened the same night Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting US soldiers in Iraq, its response to the American drone strike that killed Soleimani on January 3.

At the time, Iranian troops were bracing for a US counterstrike and appear to have mistaken the plane for a missile.

The civil aviation report does not acknowledge that, only saying a change in the ‘alertness level of Iran’s air defence’ allowed previously scheduled air traffic to resume.

The report detailed a series of moments when the taking down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 could have been avoided.

The report said the surface-to-air missile battery that targeted the Boeing 737-800 had been relocated and was not properly reoriented. 

Those manning the missile battery could not communicate with their command centre, they misidentified the civilian flight as a threat and opened fire twice without getting approval from ranking officials, the report said.

‘If each had not arisen, the aircraft would not have been targeted,’ the report said.

Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike moments after he arrived in Iraq amid fears he was about to orchestrate attacks on the US embassy.   

The move brought Iran and the US to the brink of war, and in the end Tehran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq.

While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad left no US soldiers dead, dozens of them suffered brain trauma. 

President Donald Trump opted against responding militarily.

Amid sky-high tensions, Iran accidentally shot down a passenger jet while mistaking it for an American warplane, killing 176 people – mostly Iranians. 

Majd had migrated to Syria in the 1970s with his family and worked as an English and Arabic language translator at a company, Iran’s judiciary website claimed.

When war broke out, he chose to stay in the country while his family left.

‘His knowledge of Arabic and familiarity with Syria’s geography made him close to Iranian military advisers and he took responsibilities in groups stationed from Idlib to Latakia,’ the site added. 

Majd was not a member of the Revolutionary Guards ‘but infiltrated many sensitive areas under the cover of being a translator’.

He was found to have been paid ‘American dollars to reveal information on adviser convoys, military equipment and communication systems, commanders and their movements, important geographical areas, codes and passwords’ until he came under scrutiny and his access was downgraded.

He was arrested in October 2018, Mizan Online said.

Iran said last week it had executed another man convicted of spying for the CIA by selling information about Iran’s missile programme.

Reza Asgari had worked at the defence ministry’s aerospace division for years but retired four years ago, after which he sold ‘information he had regarding our missiles’ to the CIA in exchange for large sums of money.

Iran in February handed down a similar sentence for Amir Rahimpour, another man convicted of spying for the US and conspiring to sell information on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Tehran announced in December it had arrested eight people ‘linked to the CIA’ and involved in nationwide street protests that erupted the previous month over a surprise petrol price hike.

It also said in July 2019 that it had dismantled a CIA spy ring, arrested 17 suspects between March 2018 and March 2019 and sentenced some of them to death.

Trump at the time dismissed the claim as ‘totally false’.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk