Bereaved Iranian couple sues top security officials over airliner downing

Mohsen Assadi-Lari, whose son and daughter were killed when Iran shot down Ukrainian passenger plane, says the suit targets Revolutionary Guards generals, security council chief

Rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran, on January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
Rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran, on January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian couple has filed a rare lawsuit against three senior officials over the deaths of their children in the 2020 downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, a newspaper reported Monday.

The jet was shot down shortly after take-off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, killing all 176 people on board, mostly Iranians and Canadians.

Three days later, the Islamic Republic’s armed forces admitted to downing the Kyiv-bound Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 “by mistake,” at a time of heightened tensions with arch-foe the United States.

Bereaved father Mohsen Assadi-Lari told reformist daily Shargh the lawsuits targeted Ali Shamkhani, Major General Hossein Salami and Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh.

Shamkhani is the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Salami heads the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Hajizadeh is commander of the Guards’ aerospace force.

“We have lodged a complaint against Shamkhani, Salami and Hajizadeh,” said Assadi-Lari, a former director general of international affairs at the health ministry.

He and his wife Zahda Majd, a university professor, lost their son Mohammad-Hossein, 23, and daughter Zeinab, 21, in the downing of the plane.

Illustrative: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami (left) and the Guard’s aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called ‘Gaza,’ in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)

On Monday, the Guards issued a message of condolences to the Assadi-Lari family on their Sepah News website from their leader.

“While expressing his condolences to this dear family and to the other families of the martyrs… General Salami has said ‘we will not spare any effort to ease the suffering of all families,'” said the message.

‘Justice, truth’

At the time of the downing two years ago, Iranian air defenses were on high alert for a US counterattack after Tehran fired missiles at a military base in Iraq that was used by American forces.

Those missiles came in response to the killing in a US drone attack in Baghdad of Major General Qassem Soleimani who headed the Guards’ foreign operations arm.

Iranian families of victims last week marked the second anniversary of the tragedy by gathering at the crash site near Tehran airport, demanding justice for those who died.

They held up pictures of their loved ones, laid flowers and lit candles in their memory, while demanding “Justice! Truth!” videos shared on social media showed.

Flowers and candles are placed in front of portraits of the flight crew members of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, at a memorial inside Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 11, 2020. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

And in another rare move, state television has run an interview with the mother of Zahra Hassani Saadi, who also died in the crash, questioning the authorities’ handling of the case.

“We have several questions, who will answer us? Why wasn’t the flight canceled? Why was the cruise missile fired? We don’t know and no one has explained it to us,” she said.

Last week, Iranian officials said payments of $150,000 have started to be made to victims’ families.

Separately, a Canadian court said it has awarded more than $80 million in compensation to the families of six of the victims.

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