TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has material evidence to prove that it has captured an American unmanned aircraft, a prominent lawmaker in Tehran said Wednesday, rejecting US Navy statements that none of its drones in the region was missing.
Tehran on Tuesday claimed to have captured a Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf, and even showed an image of what it said was the aircraft on state TV. The Islamic Republic trumpeted its possession of an allegedly intact US drone as another prize in its growing showdown with Washington over surveillance of Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
“We have material evidence to prove that the drone we captured belongs to the US,” Ismael Kowsari, the head of the Iranian parliament’s defense committee, told The Associated Press. “The unmanned aircraft took off from a warship. The Americans will have no choice but to confirm that one of their drones is missing.”
Kowsari dismissed suggestions that the drone could have belonged to other nations in the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates, that have ScanEagle drones in service.”The UAE doesn’t dare to engage in such activities against us. We have sufficient evidence to prove it is American.” he said. “The capture of the drone demonstrates Iran’s capability of bringing down such aircraft intact.”
Kowsari said Tehran will release more information on the aircraft shortly. The ScanEagle is a slow-moving 1.4-meter (5-foot)-long craft with a wingspan of about 3 meters (10 feet).
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday, “We have no evidence that the Iranian claims are true.” Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, also said all US drones in the region are “fully accounted for.”
There is a possibility that the drone is authentic but was drawn out of the sea after a past crash and unveiled only now for maximum effect as tensions rise over US reconnaissance missions — including a Predator drone coming under fire from Iranian warplanes last month. Salata noted Tuesday that some ScanEagles operated by the US Navy “have been lost into the water” over the years, but there is no “record of that occurring most recently.”
If in fact true, the seizure of the ScanEagle drone would be the third reported incident involving Iran and US drones in the past two years. Last month, Iran claimed that a US drone violated its airspace. The Pentagon said the unmanned Predator aircraft came under fire at least twice but was not hit, and that the drone was over international waters.
In late 2011, Iran claimed it brought down a CIA spy drone after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which is equipped with stealth technology, was captured almost intact. Tehran later said it recovered data from the drone.
In the case of the Sentinel, after initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed it had been monitoring Iran’s military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.