Panic as US Military Jets Approach Iranian Passenger Plane Over Syria

U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers, F-35B stealth fighter jets and South Korean F-15K fighter jets fly over the Korean Peninsula during a 2017 joint drills.. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP, File)

TEHRAN, Iran (AFP) — Two U.S. military jets flew dangerously close to an Iranian passenger plane over war-torn Syria, forcing the pilot to take emergency action and sparking panic on board, Iranian authorities said Friday.

The U.S. military said of Thursday’s incident that an “F-15 on a routine air mission … conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters.”

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) issued a statement after Iranian state television broadcast amateur footage of passengers onboard screaming as the Mahan Air jetliner appeared to change course suddenly.

Another video apparently shot on a phone appeared to show at least two fighter jets flying beside the plane.

In an initial report accompanying the footage, the state broadcaster said the military aircraft were believed to be Israeli.

“After this dangerous action by the Israeli fighter, the pilot of the commercial plane quickly reduced the altitude of the flight to avoid colliding with the Israeli fighter, injuring several passengers on board,” it said.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency said the Mahan Air pilot made contact on the radio with two U.S. fighter planes, and that the aircraft later landed safely in the Lebanese capital.

CENTCOM, which covers the whole of the wider Middle East, insisted it was a “professional intercept … conducted in accordance with international standards.” 

“Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft,” it said.

Iranian television called the incident “provocative and dangerous.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that Iran had been in touch with the United Nations and the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which has handled U.S. interests in Iran since relations were severed after the Islamic revolution of 1979.

“If anything happens to the aircraft on its return flight, Iran will hold the United States responsible,” Mousavi told IRNA.

Syrian state media said that “planes believed to belong to the U.S.-led coalition intercepted” the Iranian airliner over the Al-Tanf district on the border with Jordan and Iraq, forcing the captain to make “a sharp drop.”

© Agence France-Presse

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