11:51 GMT15 August 2020
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    A Mahan Air Airbus A310 jetliner with over 150 people onboard was forced to take evasive maneuvers over Syria on Thursday after being intercepted by a pair of US F-15 jets, with the incident leaving at least 12 passengers with injuries of varying severity. Tehran submitted a complaint the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on Friday.

    Iran considers US fighter jets’ maneuvers near its civilian airliner on Thursday to have been an “act of terror,” and has the right to pursue the matter legally, Transport Minister Mohammad Eslami has announced.

    “Harassing a passenger plane is a terrorist act. How can a passenger plane that is flying it its commercial route in accordance with aviation protocols be attacked and threatened by another country’s warplanes?” the minister asked, speaking to Iranian media on Friday.

    “Unfortunately, 12 people, including the flight’s crew and passengers, have been hurt in this terrorist act,” Eslami added.

    The minister stressed that Iran’s representative to the ICAO will follow up on Iran’s complaint, and added that Tehran expects the US’s “terrorist move” to be condemned by the organization. He also called on Lebanon and Syria to file their own separate complaints against the US in the ICAO in relation to Thursday’s incident.

    Iran is also expected to submit a letter of protest to the United Nations Security Council and to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

    Collision Alert

    Also Friday, Mahan Air announced that its plane was flying in full compliance of international air navigation rules when Thursday’s incident took place, and added that its commercial aircraft have been flying the same Tehran-Beirut for over a decade.

    The company confirmed that the intercept took place during a stage of the flight when passengers were allowed to unbuckle their seatbelts, and revealed that the plane’s pilot had to abruptly lower the plane’s altitude after receiving an alert on a possible collision.

    US Central Command maintains that the intercept was conducted in a safe and professional manner, with its warplanes scrambled to carry out a “standard visual inspection” of the Iranian plane from a “safe distance” as it flew near the US garrison at At-Tanf in southern Syria. CENTCOM says its jets never approached closer than 1,000 meters from the Mahan Air flight.

    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called the latter CENTCOM claim a “mockery.”

    Laya Joneydi, vice president of legal affairs in President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, said that “the explanations provided so far [by the US side] are unjustified and unconvincing.”

    “The harassment of a passenger plane on the territory of a third country is a clear violation of aviation security and freedom of civilian aircraft,” she noted.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the international community to “stop” the US “outlaws” before they cause a “disaster” in a tweet Friday.

    Mahan Air Flight 1152 safely landed at its destination in Beirut, Lebanon following Thursday’s incident, refueled and returned to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport with no further provocations reported.

    Video footage of the episode showed passengers screaming and emergency oxygen masks deploying from some overhead panels, with one passenger telling media that a “black jet” had approached very close to the passenger aircraft. Several passengers were reported to have hit their heads against the ceiling as the plane took its evasive maneuver, with one passenger seen lying unconscious on the floor in one of the videos. Two children reportedly received hand fractures and were sent to hospital in Beirut.

    At least one senior Iranian official compared Thursday’s close call to the Iran Air Flight 655 disaster of July 3, 1988, when the US Navy’s USS Vincennes warship shot down an Iranian passenger jet flying over Iranian airspace in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 passengers and crew onboard. The US Navy initially blamed the aircraft’s pilots for the incident, saying it had made repeated attempts to contact the plane but received no response. Washington later apologized and issued compensation to the victims’ families, but the USS Vincennes’ crew was nonetheless given medals for their tour of duty, and the ship’s commander received a Legion of Merit award for “exceptionally meritorious conduct.”

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