People standing and analysing the fragments and remains of the Ukraine International Airlines plane Boeing 737-800 that crashed outside the Iranian capital Tehran.
AFP/National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine
TEHRAN – Iran announced its first arrests over the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner last week, as it struggles to contain the fallout from the disaster that sparked three days of protests.
The Ukraine International Airlines plane was brought down by a missile shortly after takeoff on Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.
Iran has come under mounting international pressure to ensure its investigation into the tragedy is full and transparent.
READ: Ukraine demands punishment for Iran plane downing
The authorities’ handling of the air disaster has also angered some Iranians.
Tehran for days denied Western claims based on US intelligence that the Boeing 737 had been downed by a missile.
It came clean on Saturday when Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh acknowledged a missile operator had mistaken the plane for a cruise missile and opened fire independently.
READ: Iran says unintentionally shot down Ukrainian airliner
At a televised news conference, the judiciary announced the first arrests had been made over the calamitous blunder, without specifying how many.
“Extensive investigations have been carried out and some people have been arrested,” said spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.
The announcement came shortly after President Hassan Rouhani said everyone responsible for the disaster must be punished.
READ: Crash of PS752 in Iran: Was the aircraft shot down?
“For our people it is very important in this incident that anyone who was at fault or negligent at any level” face justice, Rouhani said.
“Anyone who should be punished must be punished.
“The judiciary must form a special court with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts… The whole world will be watching,” Rouhani said.
READ: Iran to download plane black box after missile blamed for crash
“It cannot be that only the person who pressed the button is at fault. There are others, and I want this to be explained to the people explicitly.”
The Kiev-bound plane was shot down at a time when Iran’s armed forces were on heightened alert after launching a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops.