The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on Friday said it has obtained an audio recording that suggests Iranian authorities did not close the airspace over Tehran on January 8 to conceal their plans to strike U.S. military bases in Iraq, leading to the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner.
The Kyiv-bound Ukraine International Airlines aircraft was shot down by two missiles fired by the Revolutionary Guard air defense. The crash killed all 176 passengers and crew members on board. Only after three days did the Guard take responsibility for the tragedy.
According to CBC, the recording contains a 91-minutethe conversation between a victim's family member in Canada and Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of Iran's investigation into the incident on March 7.
Rezaeifar has apparently been removed from his position on Thursday as the families of the British victims have been notified that another person has been appointed to lead the investigation. Iranian authorities have not officially announced or commented on the removal of Rezaeifar, who is also the director-general of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) from the investigation or appointment of another person.
CBC says they had emailed Rezaeifar a copy of the recording and requested him to comment on it less than 24 hours before his removal.
According to CBC, Rezaeifar in the recording said closing the airspace over Tehran could have exposed Iran's pending ballistic missile attack on U.S. air bases in Iraq. The attack was in retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani by a U.S. drone attack a few days earlier.
But there was more than four hours between the attack on U.S. bases and when the plane was shot down and civilian flights could have been halted right after the Iranian missiles were launched.
The Iranian attack did not kill any U.S. soldiers but dozens sustained brain injuries which was revealed by the Pentagon later.
Flight 752 was shut down four hours later shortly after takeoff from Imam Khomeini International Airport when the authorities were apparently still expecting U.S. retaliation for the attack.
Rezaeifar says in the recording that he called the military five minutes after the plane crashed to ask if there had been a missile attack and Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Aerospace Force of the Revolutionary Guard admitted to him that the military had been ordered to shoot missiles due to national security concerns.
The audio recording proves that the investigation is not independent as Iran claims, CBC quoted Thomas Juneau, an associate professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa and former analyst of Middle East affairs.
"Having the lead investigator saying those things on that phone call really damages that fiction," said Juneau. "By removing him, they're trying to protect that facade."
The contents of the recording reveal that Iran may have used commercial flights as human shields on the night of the incident when there was intense military activity.
"The senior leadership of the government willingly and knowingly disregarded these risks," Payam Akhavan, a Canadian-Iranian international law professor at McGill University and former UN prosecutor at The Hague was quoted by CBC as saying. "This is not just a question of human error or mistake. It's a question of criminal recklessness," he said.
According to Akhavan, knowingly putting civilian aircraft in harm's way and using civilian airliners in effect as human shields, clearly implicates criminal responsibility.