Iran announces arrests over downing of Ukrainian plane that killed 176

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Iran’s judiciary says arrests have been made over the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian jetliner near the capitol of Tehran that killed all 176 people on board.

Ukrainian investigators work Monday, January 13, 2020, at the site of the Boeing 737-800 passenger jet crash in Tehran, Iran, that killed 176 people. (Source: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/CNN)

A judiciary spokesman says that “extensive investigations have taken place and some individuals are arrested.” He was quoted by Iranian state media on Tuesday, but did not say how many individuals have been detained or name them.

Earlier in the day, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for a special court to be set up to try those responsible for the plane shootdown.

Popular anger has been swelling in Iran over the government’s attempt to conceal its role in the tragedy.

Amid the tensions, Britain, France and Germany have ramped up pressure on Iran for repeatedly violating a landmark nuclear pact.

Leaders of the three nations on Tuesday launched the deal’s “dispute mechanism,” triggering around 30 days of consultations.

They say in a statement that they’ve been "left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments.'' Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned of a “serious and strong response” to the European move.

The Europeans have not rejected the deal outright and the move does not mean that sanctions will automatically be imposed.

Iranians already are suffering under crippling United States sanctions, and they have expressed shock and outrage over the plane crash that killed scores of young people. They also decried misleading statements from top officials, who only admitted responsibility three days later in the face of mounting evidence.

Online videos appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protests in the streets. Video verified by The Associated Press show protesters scattering amid clouds of tear gas Sunday night. In another, a woman is carried away as people shout that she is wounded by gunfire.

President Donald Trump has embraced Iran’s anti-government protesters in another departure from his predecessors, who feared such overt support could backfire and inadvertently help hard-liners in the Islamic Republic.

Trump has tweeted repeatedly in recent days in support of the protesters. But his encouragement carries a risk by seeming to confirm the claims of Iranian hard-liners who accuse the U.S. of fomenting the unrest.

Iran admitted to accidentally shooting down the Ukrainian plane shortly after firing ballistic missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for the airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Gen. Qassem Soleimani. No one was injured in the attack.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the victims of the crash, including 57 Canadians, would be alive right now if tensions had not escalated in the region. He has been careful to avoid blaming Trump for the deaths after the president ordered the killing of Soleimani.

Other Canadians, including a leading corporate leader in the country, blame Trump in part for the deaths.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have questioned the strategy behind Trump’s order to kill Soleimani, which was made without prior approval from Congress, pointing to potential consequences of heightened tensions that could endanger U.S. troops and lead to war with Iran.

A flurry of diplomatic visits and meetings crisscrossing the Persian Gulf are driving urgent efforts to defuse the possibility of all-out war. Both the U.S. and Iran have said they do not want war, but fears have grown that the crisis could spin out of Tehran’s or Washington’s control.

The Trump administration has insisted the threat of an “imminent” attack led to the drone strike on Soleimani. But officials behind the scenes say the strike was motivated as much, if not more, by a broader effort to rein in a dangerously emboldened Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr gave voice to the broader rationale of deterrence on Monday but stopped short of saying definitively that no specific plot was broken up.

Other U.S. officials interviewed by The Associated Press acknowledged that the long-considered operation of killing Soleimani was designed to break up a perilous cycle of violence that could have brought the U.S. and Iran even closer to hostilities.

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