Iran proceeds to arrests over Ukrainian 737 shootdown

Iran’s judiciary said Tuesday arrests have been made for the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed all 176 people on board just after takeoff from Tehran last week.

The announcement came amid an upswell of anger and protests by Iranians in recent days over the downing of the jetliner last Wednesday and apparent attempts by senior officials in Iran to cover-up the cause of the crash.

Iran, which initially dismissed allegations that a missile had brought down the plane, acknowledged only on Saturday _ three days after and in the face of mounting evidence _ that its Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane by mistake as the force braced for a possible military confrontation with the United States.

Judiciary spokesman Gulamhussain Esmaili said “extensive investigations have taken place and some individuals are arrested.’’ His statement on the judiciary’s website did not say how many individuals had been detained or name them.

Iran’s president on Tuesday also called for a special court to be set up to probe the incident.

“The judiciary should form a special court with a ranking judge and dozens of experts,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech televised in Iran. “This is not an ordinary case. The entire the world will be watching this court.’’

Rouhani called the incident “a painful and unforgivable’’ mistake and promised that his administration would pursue the case “by all means”.

“The responsibility falls on more than just one person,” he said, adding that those found culpable “should be punished.’’

“There are others, too, and I want that this issue is expressed honestly,’’ he said, without elaborating.

Iran shot down the plane as its forces were on alert for possible U.S. retaliation after Iran launched ballistic missiles on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq. No one was hurt in that attack, which was carried out in response to the stunning killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad.

While Rouhani pointed to mistakes and negligence, he also repeated the government’s line that the tragedy was ultimately rooted in U.S. aggression.

It was the U.S. that made for an agitated environment. It was the U.S. that created an unusual situation. It was the U.S. that threatened and took our beloved (Soleimani),’’ he said.

Rouhani called the government’s admission that Iranian forces shot down the plane a “first good step.’’

He added that Iranian experts who retrieved the Ukrainian plane’s flight recorder, the so-called black box, have sent it to France for analysis.