The US military on Thursday confirmed that one of its fighter jets had flown within a few thousand feet of an Iranian commercial aircraft over Syria to “inspect it,” after Iranian state media released videos showing apparently shaken and injured passengers.
A US F-15 conducted a “standard visual inspection” of the privately owned Iranian jetliner at a close distance of about 1,000 meters (some 3,300 feet), a spokesman for Central Command, the US military command responsible for the Middle East, said in a statement.
The US statement came after Iranian state media Press TV reported that fighter jets had conducted “dangerous” maneuvers close to an Iranian passenger plane.
Several passengers were injured in the incident, according to Press TV. The Mahan Air flight was flying from Tehran to Beirut, state media reports.
Iranian national broadcaster IRIB described the US maneuvering as a “provocative” action that had forced the passenger plane’s pilot to abruptly lower altitude.
A defense official told CNN there were two US F-15’s in the air, but that only one was sent to make the visual identification.
The CENTCOM spokesman said the inspection had occurred near a garrison used by the US-led coalition fighting ISIS, At Tanf, a small outpost in Syria near the Iraqi-Jordanian border that has been the scene of clashes between US and pro-regime and Iranian forces.
“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison. Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft,” the statement said. “The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.”
In a statement, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, “The incident is under investigation. Due political and legal measures will be taken upon completion of the information at hand,” Press TV reported.
Mousavi said that earlier Thursday, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, had informed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of the incident and warned that “in case of any incident for this plane on the way back home, the Islamic Republic of Iran will take the United States responsible,” according to Iran’s semi-official FARS news agency.
“A similar message has been sent to the Swiss ambassador to Tehran,” Mousavi added, according to FARS. The Swiss Embassy represents US interests in Iran.