DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Iran's top diplomat acknowledged Wednesday that Iranians "were lied to" for days after the Islamic Republic accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner. The admission came as new surveillance footage purported to show two surface-to-air missiles 20 seconds apart shred the airplane and kill all 176 people aboard.
The downing of the Ukraine International Airlines flight last week came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States over its unraveling nuclear deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for the first time Wednesday threatened Europe by warning that its soldiers in the Mideast "could be in danger" over the crisis as Britain, France and Germany launched a measure that could see United Nations sanctions re-imposed on Tehran.
The crash -- and subsequent days of Iranian denials that a missile had downed the airplane -- has sparked angry protests in a country already on edge as its economy struggles under crushing American sanctions.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran reached a fever pitch two weeks ago with the American drone strike in Baghdad that killed the powerful Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The general had led Iranian proxy forces abroad, including those blamed for deadly roadside bomb attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile strike targeting Iraqi military bases housing U.S. forces early Jan. 8, just before Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard shot down the Ukrainian airliner taking off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport.
Iran for days afterward insisted a technical fault downed the 3½-year-old Boeing 737-800.
Not admitting the plane had been shot down "was for the betterment of our country's security, because if we had said this, our air defense system would have become crippled and our guys would have had doubted everything," said Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guard's aerospace program, in television footage aired Wednesday.
Hajizadeh only days earlier apologized on state television and said: "I wish I were dead."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking at a summit in New Delhi, became the first official to describe Iran's earlier claims as a lie.
"In the last few nights, we've had people in the streets of Tehran demonstrating against the fact that they were lied to for a couple of days," Zarif said.
Zarif went on to praise Iran's military for being "brave enough to claim responsibility early on."
However, he said that he and Rouhani only learned that a missile had shot down the flight on Friday.
The Guard is answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is expected to preside over Friday prayers in Iran for the first time in years amid anger about the crash.
The new surveillance footage obtained by The Associated Press showing the missile fire was filmed off a monitor by a mobile phone. It appears to have been taken near the town of Bidkaneh, northwest of Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport.
The two minutes of black-and-white footage purportedly shows one missile streaking across the sky and exploding near the plane. Ten seconds later, another missile is fired. About 20 seconds after the first explosion, another strikes near the plane. A ball of flames then falls from the sky out of frame.
The footage appears genuine and matches geographic features of the area. The date in the upper right-hand corner of the video appears to correspond to Iran's Persian calendar. It also explains how so many people filmed the shoot-down: The first explosion drew their attention and their filming mobile phones to the predawn sky.
Amid all of this, Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday launched the so-called dispute mechanism pertaining to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran has been breaking limits of the accord for months in response to President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the deal in May 2018.
After Soleimani's killing, Iran announced it would no longer abide by any of the nuclear deal's limits, which had been designed to keep Tehran from having enough material to be able to build an atomic bomb if it chose. However, Iran has said it will continue to allow the United Nations' nuclear watchdog access to its nuclear sites.
Speaking before his Cabinet, Rouhani showed a rarely seen level of anger in wide-ranging remarks Wednesday that included the threat to Europe.
"Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger," Rouhani said. "We want you to leave this region but not with war. We want you to go wisely. It is to your own benefit."
Information for this article was contributed by Nadia Ahmed, Jill Lawless, Yuras Karmanau, Lorne Cook, Geir Moulson and Frances D'Emilio of The Associated Press.
A Section on 01/16/2020
Print Headline: Iran admits days of lies on downed jet