TEHRAN — Iran’s judiciary said Tuesday that it had arrested an undisclosed number of suspects involved in the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed all 176 aboard last week.
The announcement came after days of protests shook Iran, with demonstrators railing against the government’s apparent early attempts to cover-up the downing of the plane. Thirty people were arrested during the demonstrations, judicial spokesperson, Gholamhossein Esmaili, said in a press conference Tuesday.
Esmaili gave no further details on the number of those arrested in connection with the downing of the passenger jet and did not reveal their names or professions.
He also said that the plane’s black box had been taken to France for the data to be read and that more information would be released. But France’s bureau of aviation investigation confirmed to NBC News Tuesday that no black boxes had been sent to France and nor were they expected to be.
Canada’s transportation safety board had said Monday that the black boxes were damaged and remained in Iran.
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“We haven’t seen the extent of the damage, but extracting the data will pose some technical challenges for the Iranian investigating team,” the head of the board said.
Tehran initially denied allegations that a missile had struck the plane shortly after it took off from the Iranian capital on Wednesday, only to reverse course on Saturday admitting that it had shot down the jet by mistake.
The missile was fired due to “human error” causing the “horrific crash,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Twitter Saturday.
Over the weekend, the U-turn prompted Iranian protesters to take to the streets demanding that the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei step down. President Rouhani said that one person could not be held responsible for the downing of the plane and called for a special court to be set up to probe the incident.
Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank, said the way in which the government and the establishment handle the broader repercussions of the incident could be a “watershed moment for Iran.”
“The choices it makes are likely to reverberate throughout Iranian politics and society for months, or even years, to come,” he wrote in an analysis piece for the BBC.
Britain, France and Germany said Tuesday that they were triggering a dispute mechanism that is part of the nuclear deal with Iran due to its failure to live up to terms of the pact.
The foreign ministers of the three nations said in a statement Tuesday that they’ve been “left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments.”
But, they added, that their countries would not join a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran and hoped that parties to the nuclear accord would find a way forward to resolve the impasse and preserve the agreement.
The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers eased international sanctions on Tehran in return for limits on its nuclear program. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in May 2018 and imposed economic sanctions on the country’s oil industry, as well as banking and other key sectors.
Amin Hossein Khodadadi reported from Tehran, Saphora Smith from London, Nancy Ing from Paris, and Oksana Parafeniuk from Kiev. Tom Costello reported from Washington.
Reuters also contributed to this report.
Oksana Parafeniuk, Nancy Ing and Tom Costello contributed.