‘168 killed’ in plane crash — 168 people were killed this morning when a plane crashed in farm land in north-west Iran. The plane, operated by Caspian Airlines, was travelling from Tehran to the Armenian capital Yerevan and crashed near the village of Janatabad, south of the city of Qazvin. Several eyewitness reports suggest one of the plane’s rear engines caught fire, forcing the crew to attempt a crash landing, but the plane nose-dived into the ground before they could find a suitable site. Colonel Kakhbaz, the deputy police chief Qazvin, said: “The aircraft caught fire in the sky before crashing and exploding. The plane made several turns in the sky to try to find farm land to land on.” Faramarz Sarva, provincial vice-governor , also said the pilot had deliberately tried to avoid built-up areas. Ali Akbar Hashem, who lived near the crash site, told AP he saw the plane’s tail on fire as it circled. “Then, I saw the plane crashing nose-down. It hit the ground causing a big explosion. The impact shook the ground like an earthquake.”
Film of the crash scene shown on several websites showed a huge smouldering crater about 6 or 7 metres deep gouged into the farmland and mostly small scattered pieces of wreckage. According to the Tehran Times only three pieces of wreckage were more than two metres long. Body parts were strewn over a 500-mnetre radius and AFP quoted one village girl, Fatemeh, as saying: “When I arrived at the site, I was literally walking on bits and pieces of flesh.” ISNA quoted Reza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation, as saying the plane was carrying 153 passengers and 15 crew. “Caspian flight 7908 crashed 16 minutes after its takeoff from the International Imam Khomeini Airport,” he added. The time of the crash was put at 11.33am local time.
Arsen Pogossian, the Deputy Director of Civil Aviation of Armenia, , said 147 of the passengers were Iranians, including 31 of Armenian origin. There were also four Armenians and two Georgians. Two crew members were Armenians, he said. According to ISNA the dead included Iran’s national junior judo team – eight athletes and two coaches – who were going to a training camp in Armenia ahead of the world championships in Hungary next month. President Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Rafsanjani, and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani all sent condolences to the bereaved families and the president ordered an immediate inquiry into the cause of the crash.
Caspian Airline’s website says it was formed in 1992 and became a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 2005. It operates more than 50 flights a week from its Tehran hub to various Iranian destinations and the capitals of several neighbouring countries, According to Wikipedia, it is is a joint Iranian-Russian venture operating six Russian Tupolev Tu-145M planes.
The Tu-154, with three rear-mounted engines, is a medium-range airliner that dominates domestic flights in Russia, its former satellite states and Iran. According to Wikipedia, in the 26 years up to 1998 it had a better than average international safety record. Originally designed in the 1960s it is described as similar to, but more powerful than the Boeing 727. “As one of the 20th Century’s most important civilian planes, the Tu-154 has been the mainstay ‘workhorse’ of Soviet airlines for several decades having carried no fewer than half of all passengers flown by Aeroflot and all its subsidiaries during that time,” the Wikipedia entry says.
There have been two other Tu-154 crashes in Iran this decade: an Iran Air Tours jet went down near Khorramabad, killing all 118 on board, on February 12, 2002, and another Iran Air Tour plane caught fire on landing at Mashad airport, killing 29, on September 1 2006. There have been a number of other crashes in Iran in recent years. It is difficult for Iran’s cash-strapped airlines to maintain Western-made jets because of sanctions, which have forced them increasingly to buy Russian aircraft. Ennehar Online, AP, ISNA, Reuters, Tehran Times, Caspian Air, Wikipedia, airliners.net, Wikipedia, Russia Today TV report, ISNA photos, Recent big Iran air crashes
‘Political figures’ face charges — Iran appears to be moving closer to bringing charges against top aides of the reformist leadership over the recent post-elec tion unrest. Gholam-Hossein Mohsnei-Ejeie, the Interior Minister, said the authorities now had evidence that “certain political figures” played a role in orchestrating the unrest. “The role of some of these political figures [in the recent unrest] has been proven and their case is nearing completion,” he said, according to PressTV. The minister said the reformist leaders had asked for the release of those arrested in the disturbances but this would not be possible. as their cases were still under investigation. PressTV said: “He went on to add that the confessions obtained from those arrested could be made public, should the country’s judiciary decides to air their remarks.” The report singled out a number of arrested “political figures” for mention: former vice president Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, former deputy interior minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, former deputy Majlis speaker Behzad Nabavi, journalist Saeed Hajarian, former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh, and head of the Association of Iranian Journalists Ali Mazroui. PressTV
Challenge to Rafsanjani — An article in Etemaad, the newspaper of Mehdi Karroubi, today challenges Ayatollah Rafsanjani to declare his open support for the reform movement when he leads the upcoming Friday prayers. Although not directly throwing down the gauntlet, journalist Keyvan Mehregan says reformist supporters are expecting him to declare his support for them. The fact that they were openly encouraging each other to attend Friday prayers – normally the rallying ground of hardline supporters – “has this message to Hashemi-Rafsanjani: that he expresses positions that have not yet been heard by the protesters from the official podiums to calm their pain. They expect that the chairman of the Assembly of Experts and the head of the Expediency Council expresses a position that both helps to maintain peace in society and recognises their protest.”
The article, an English translation of which appears of the Moussavi Facebook site, says no one knows what the ayatollah is actually going to say. But it goes back to the presidential debates and the accusations of corruption Ahmadinejad flung at his direction, to suggest the possibility that Rafsanjani might even finally carry out his threat to reveal all about the “untold injustice of the election”. The article refers to Rafsanjani’s open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei complaining about Ahmadinejad’s behaviour in the debates. After saying he was holding his tongue about the president’s accusations in order not the taint the atmosphere of the election, the article quotes Rafsanjani as writing: “Of course in the appropriate time the deviations and the untold injustice of the election and the actions of the ninth administration will be available to the public and for history”.
The article notes, however, that the ayatollah is also coming under pressure from hardliners to toe their line. It says Raja News, a website close to the administration, has published a letter from a group of students at Tehran University demanding that he support “the administration risen from the will of people”. It also calls on him to denounce the reformist movement, which it describes as the “movement of division” hiding behind Rafsanjani’s authority, “and, by taking a clear position, expose the complex hypocrisy of the division”.
Meanwhile, the Tehran Times reports that the Kargozeran Sazandegi (Executives of Construction) party that stands behind Ayatollah Rafsanjani has announced its intention of joining the political front being set up by Moussavi. Party spokesman Hossein Marashi said the front should stand for “the rights of the nation, people’s freedom, and their right to determine their own fate based on the constitution”. Had such a front existed before, he said, the events after the election would not have happened. Facebook, Tehran Times
Moussavi will attend — Mir-Hossein Moussavi today confirmed that he would be attending the Friday prayers gathering in Tehran. He writes on his Facebook site: “Since I find it strongly essential on myself to respond to the invitation made by the allies and comrades in the path of defending the legitimate rights of a free and dignified living … I will be present among to your lines. Seizing solid rope of the faith and being present in God’s safe territory, which is guaranteed by your invitation, are the best ways to gain our unjustifiably denied rights.” Earlier doubts had been cast on his attendance when a statement appeared on the page responding to a story in Etemaad newspaper that he would be going – itself based on earlier entries on his Facebook site. The statement made the point that the page is actually the “official supporters Facebook page” and as such is open to entries from supporters worldwide “based on the concept of ‘Every Iranian A Staff Member’ “. It says the poster put up two days ago calling on the multitude to join a green march to the Friday prayers ceremony was the work of one such supporter and is not the work of Moussavi himself. “Our position in terms of participating in the Friday Prayers will follow in accordance with [Moussavi’s] decision on whether he will or will not be attending, and so, we await his announcement.” Moussavi’s response still leaves vague the question of a green march, however. Facebook
Sohrab’s mother speaks out — A succession of harrowing tales are starting to emerge of the search by families for news of their arrested relatives , the seemingly callous way they are treated by the authorities and the suggestion from these accounts that the death toll could well be in the hundreds. One clear and indisputable tale comes from the mother of Sohrab Arabi, the 19 year-old student killed in mysterious circumstances and returned to his family 26 days after he disappeared. In a video on Mir-Hossein’s Facebook site of his visit to the Arabi family on Tuesday night, the mother details her painful efforts to go from one revolutionary office and prison to the next, all the time treated in a callous or supercilious manner. He son’s only crime, she said, was to put on a green band and walk quietly in a march. She recalls with not a little irony how she joined in every march against the Shah back in the days of the revolution. Several hundred Moussavi supporters gathered at the house, some chanting “death to the dictator”. Moussav, who made the visit with his wife Zahra Rahnavard, told the family: “We won’t let the blood of these youths go in vain”.
The ongoing question about Sohrab ‘s death is, since he was shot through the heart and thus one would assume during a demonstration, how come he ended up in prison and why did it take so long for his body to emerge? The Los Angeles Times notes that the story of Sohrab’s death and his mother’s quest for the truth “is emerging as another emotionally potent narrative of the fledgling protest movement” in much the same way as Neda Agha-Soltan, shot dead during a demonstration. Today Mehdi Karroubi also visited Sohrab’s monther and vowed to continue to fight for the interests of those detained in the crackdown. Video of Moussavi’s visit, LAT, AP
Habeus corpus, Iran style — Given the extreme censorship being practised in Iran it is difficult to paint a completely accurate picture of the human tragedy that has undoubtedly been caused by the crackdown, but enough is being published to suggest there is more than a scintilla of truth in all of it. Here we bring together the main accounts we can find of the harrowing search for loved ones and the oft-times tragic endings:
—You have no right to talk: The Rooz website reports how judicial authorities are putting pressure on families by refusing to give details of their relative’s whereabouts unless they promise not to give interviews or even talk about what has happened. The site lists several harrowing individual cases.
— Missing Iranian go ‘off the radar’: This AP report, carried by the Toronto Star, looks at the daily vigil by relatives outside the gates of Evin prison in Tehran.
— Tehran’s morgues hold bodies of 100s of protesters: A report in the Persian-lanugage newspaper Now Ruz, translated on a blog called Keeping The Change (and repeated on Mohammad Khatami’s facebook page), says hundreds of unidentified bodies are being stored in Tehran’s morgues. It says the “Office of Unidentified Dead People” has been summoning families to various morgues where they are threatened and pressured into signing statements that death was the result of some kind of accident. It details what it says is the case of one person who went to a makeshuiift morgue in south Tehran and had to sift through an album of photographs of corpses to find her loved one. “This woman reports that, as she was leaving the morgue, she saw hundreds of dead bodies piled on top of one another. According to Nooruz, this woman, whose child was not found among the photographs of the dead, was so overwhelmed at the sight of the corpses that she summarily passed out.”
— Interview with mother of Yaqoub Barvayeh: Barvayeh was shot dead by the Basij. This interview with his mother, conducted by Rooz and carried by the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, was carried out the day before he died.
— A mother’s nightmare: The blog of Shar Shahabi, who describes himself as a Middle East expert based in Dubai, picks up the harrowing tale that has appeared on a number of sites in both Persian and English of the death of beautician Taraneh Moussavi, who the story suggests was singled out for her looks. If you accept its veracity, it makes for very grim reading.
In other news:
Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, today warned Iran it has only a limited time to accept the Obama administration’s offer for engagement. “The time for action is now,” she said. A while later Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, speaking in the capac ity of the country’s EU presidency, told MEPs the EU faces “difficult choices and judgements” on Iran’s nuclear programme “that we have to do in the next, not only weeks, but months, but not very much longer than that.” AP, AFP
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Iran have met three times this week on the sidelines of the Non-aligned Movement summit, with an Iranian diplomat saying the talks took place in a “positive and cordial atmosphere”. Ties were broken in 1979 after Egypt’s peace deal with Israel, and Egypt has since said they would not be renewed until Iran ends its support for militants in Iraq and Lebanon. gulfnews.com
UAE-based Crescent Petroleum is seeking international arbitration over the failure of Iran’s state oil firm to fulfil a gas export contract for four years. Khaleej Times
A large historical site dating back to the Parthian dynasty near Ahvaz has been seriously damaged and some sections completely destroyed by road-widening work carried out by the National Iranian Oil Company, the Persian service of the Friends of Khuzestan’s Friends of Cultural Heritage Society reports. CAIS News
Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency said Iran was probably years away from being able to produce and test an atomic bomb, denying an earlier report that it believed Iran could detonate a bomb in six months time. Washington Post
And finally: A helpful YouTube video of Ahmadinejad’s attack on Germany in the “veil martyr” controversy with English subtitles, the better to assist a comprehensive appraisal of his grasp of world affairs. YouTube