US fighter jets near Iranian airliner, state media say

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Two US fighter jets approached an Iranian airliner on Thursday, forcing its pilot to change altitude quickly and injuring passengers, Iranian state media reported.

Footage shot by an Iranian state television reporter on board the flight reportedly captured the commotion inside the plane. It shows a man with a bloodied face and another lying motionless on the floor of the plane. At least one female passenger was pictured wearing her inflated yellow life jacket apparently preparing for a crash landing.

The pilot of the passenger plane, who, according to the semi-official Farsnews news agency, was flying from Tehran to Beirut, told IRINN state television that the pilots of two approaching fighter jets his plane had presented themselves as American.

Close-up of a passenger sitting by a window with blood on their face in a screenshot from footage allegedly filmed by an Iranian state television reporter.IRIB via l’Associated Press

Meanwhile, US Central Command spokesman Captain Bill Urban said in a statement that a US fighter aircraft had performed a visual inspection of the airline from a “safe distance.”

It is not immediately clear why Iranian state media reported that two fighter jets approached the passenger plane, but the United States said only one F-15 carried out the inspection. NBC News was unable to immediately verify either account.

Previously, Iranian state media reported that the fighter jets were Israeli. An IDF spokesperson said he was not commenting on any foreign reports on the incident.

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The U.S. Army Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in the area, said the F-15 aircraft was visually inspecting the Iranian plane about 1,000 meters (about 1,094 yards) as it passed. near the Tanf garrison in Syria where coalition forces are present.

“Once the F-15 pilot identified the plane as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened the distance of the plane,” said Urban, a US spokesman. Central Command. “Professional interception was carried out in accordance with international standards.”

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The incident, details of which remain scarce, could further escalate tensions between the two countries, which have escalated significantly since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

On January 3, the United States killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general, in a drone strike that then prompted Tehran to launch ballistic missiles targeting American forces in Iraq.

Last year, the US Marines blocked an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, bringing down the plane and destroying it.

Thursday’s incident recalls the destruction of Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988 by the US Navy. The Iranian government often refers to this event as one of many incidents that sparked the decades-long rift between Washington and Tehran.

A Mahan Air Airbus A310-304 in Moscow, Russia, similar to the one involved in Thursday’s incident. Iliya Pitalev / Sputnik via un fichier AP

Following the meeting, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hesamodin Ashna, tweeted what appeared to be a veiled threat against the United States.

“Whoever cares about the lives of their leaders does not play with the lives of our passengers,” he said.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the incident is being investigated.

He added that a protest note had been sent to the Swiss Embassy, ​​which represents US interests in Iran, warning that if an accident were to occur on the plane’s return flight to Tehran, it would be of the responsibility of the United States.

The plane landed in Beirut before returning to Tehran where it landed around 3 a.m. local time on Friday (6:30 p.m. Thursday ET), according to Iranian state media.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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