US fighter jets intercept Iranian passenger plane over Syria

The Iranian plane's pilots said two US fighter jets buzzed his plane. (Social media)
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Updated 24 July 2020

US fighter jets intercept Iranian passenger plane over Syria

  • Pilot of the Mahan Air plane said two US jets approached the airliner forcing him to change altitude
  • Fight tracking data showed the plane dive and then climb again

BEIRUT: An Iranian passenger plane was intercepted by two fighter jets in Syrian airspace during a flight from Tehran to Beirut.

The pilot of the Mahan Air plane said two US jets approached the airliner forcing him to change altitude to avoid a collision, Iran’s IRIB news agency reported.

Earlier, the agency said the Airbus A310 had been approached by a single Israeli jet.

The US military said its F-15 jet did pass by the Iranian plane, but at a safe distance.

There were conflicting reports as to what had happened, as Iran initially blamed Israel for the incident.

Syrian state media quoted unidentified civil aviation officials in Damascus as saying two jets, suspected of belonging to the US-led coalition, “intercepted” an Iranian passenger plane over Al-Tanf, in southwestern Syria.

US troops fighting Daesh militants have established a presence in the Al-Tanf area since 2016, which is near Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan. The US has declared it a so-called de-conflicted zone. Beyond it, Syrian forces and their Iranian allies operate, which makes it a remaining flashpoint in the region.

The reports said the interception forced the pilot to sharply change altitude, flying low and causing slight injuries among some of the passengers.

Iran’s official IRIB news agency quoted a passenger describing how his head had hit the roof of the plane during the change in altitude, and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor.

 

Aviation experts told Arab News that the plane, Flight 1152, landed at Rafic Hariri International Airport at 7:50 p.m. after flying from Tehran through the airspace of Iraq and Syria. 

The two warplanes intercepted the plane at 6:14 p.m. 

Fight tracking data showed the plane dive and then climb again.

“The pilot was forced to suddenly increase the altitude by 350ft to avoid the intercepting planes, which led to the state of turbulence inside the plane,” a source from Lebanese Plane Spotters said.

Immediately after the plane landed, video circulated on social media showing the shocked passengers on board, a child with a bandaged head and another person with a head wound. The passengers’ contents were scattered across seats and along the floor. Some passengers were wearing life jackets. 

In another video passengers could be heard screaming and in panic.

Photos claimed to show the two intercepted planes.

All the passengers left the plane, some with minor injuries, the head of the Beirut airport told Reuters.

The plane arrived back in Tehran in the early hours of Friday, the Fars news agency reported.

Ambulances were seen on the runway in Beirut transporting four injured passengers, including an elderly man, to hospital.

The US imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran's Revolutionary Guards

In a separate incident, Lebanese Army Command said an “Israeli enemy reconnaissance plane” entered Lebanese airspace in the morning over the town of Kafr Kila, and carried out a circular flight over southern Lebanon.

The military added that a similar enemy plane “violated Lebanese airspace” over the town of Aitaroun shortly after.

Tensions have spiked between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when US President Donald Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.

 

Visual inspection

The US military’s Central Command, which oversees American troops in the region, said the F-15 aircraft was conducting a visual inspection of the Iranian aircraft when it passed near the Tanf garrison in Syria where US forces are present.

Captain Bill Urban, the senior Central Command spokesman, said the F-15 “conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of about 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) from the airliner this evening.”

“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison,” Urban said. “Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft.”

He added the intercept was carried out in accordance with international standards.

The pilot of the passenger plane contacted the jet pilots to warn them to keep a safe distance and they identified themselves as American, IRIB reported.
 

Diplomatic protest

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said that following the incident, a protest note was sent to the Swiss Embassy, which represents America’s interests in Iran, warning that if any accident happens on the plane’s return flight to Tehran, it will be the responsibility of the United States.

The ministry’s spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said Iran is investigating the incident. The same note was also delivered to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres by Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-e Ravanchi.

Mahan Air is a privately owned airline based in Tehran that flies across the Mideast. In 2011, the US Treasury sanctioned the airline for allegedly “providing financial, material and technological support” to Iran’s Quds Force, the expeditionary arm of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The Treasury also alleged Mahan Air had carried weapons, goods and personnel for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

All this comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers over two years ago.

In the time since, a series of escalating incidents have occurred across the Mideast between the two countries, including the US killed an Iranian general in a drone strike and Tehran launching ballistic missiles targeting American forces in Iraq.

(With Reiuters & AP)


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.