Unknown missile operator sued over downing of Flight PS752 over Iran

Families of victims bring class action in Canada against Iranian regime and airline

08 January 2020, Iran, Shahedshahr: The area the plane crashed into is devastated. A Ukrainian passenger plane has crashed near the Imam Khomeini airport of the Iranian capital Tehran. According to the Iranian Crescent relief organization, all inmates were killed. Photo: Abofazl Marokh/dpa (Photo by Abofazl Marokh/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The unknown missile operator who brought down a Ukraine Airlines jet over Tehran a year ago is being sued in Canada by the relatives of some of the 176 victims.

As the anniversary approaches, Iran's government, powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that operated the missile unit, and the airline are also named as defendants in a class action backed by a New York finance company that will secure a slice of any compensation settlement.

The aircraft was brought down within minutes of taking off from Tehran on January 8, 2020, bound for Kiev during high tension after the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, in a US drone strike.

Mobile missile units were placed around the airport and the Iranian authorities listed a series of failures that resulted in the attack on the aircraft after it was apparently mistaken for a US cruise missile.

The route of the Ukraine International Airlines flight

The unknown missile operator is named only as "John Doe" in legal papers in Ontario, Canada, and is accused with the other Iranian defendants for having "intentionally and/or negligently launched the missile which struck Flight PS752".

The Iranian authorities said that up to six people are being held to account through its own criminal justice system but they have not named any of them.

The legal action is being led in Canada where about 138 people on board were heading after catching connecting flights from Kiev, Ukraine, the destination of flight PS752. They included 55 citizens and 30 permanent residents, families and foreign students.

The Iranian government described the tragedy as an accident but families claimed Tehran embarked on a cover-up and Canadian officials expressed scepticism about the claim that it was not deliberate.

Lawyers acting on behalf of some of the victims have hired an aviation crash expert and are amassing documents for examination to try to understand why the plane was targeted and whether it was an accident, as claimed by Iran. Nine aircraft took off from the airport before the Ukraine Airlines jet was attacked, according to flight records.

The case in Ontario is fronted by Omid Arsalani, a resident in the state, whose sister, brother-in-law and niece all died on the flight.

Other bereaved relatives joined the action, including Habib Haghjoo, whose daughter and granddaughter died on the aeroplane. He said he was campaigning for them, the other victims and the unborn baby who died on the flight.

"They are my kids, they are my grandkids, they are my brothers and sisters," he told The National. "I don't like to discriminate towards my blood relatives.

“My life has been stopped. The only thing I’m breathing for is revenge. I want the truth, the whole truth, to come out.

“I want to be out there and for the regime to know that I am in a fight for them for my daughter, my granddaughter – and all of them.”

Lawyers for the victims say the airline should not have allowed its plane to take off when other countries were stopping their aircraft from flying.

The also cite a failure to change its route away from missile units and for not notifying the Iranian authorities that it was taking off nearly an hour late.

The Iranian authorities are accused of a series of failures, including not closing off airspace amid high tensions with the US, failure to properly train staff and for not properly assessing the risk to the aircraft.

Lawyers also cited the removal in August 2020 of the head of Iran’s civil aviation organisation after reports suggesting that he falsified his academic credentials.

The Arsalani lawsuit emerged after a judge was asked to rule on a series of competing legal claims.

One of the unsuccessful class actions sought to bring personal claims against senior members of the regime, including supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the head of the IRGC, Hossein Salami.

The judge backed the Arsalani case, which will be financed by Galactic Litigation Partners in New York, which, along with lawyers, will take up to 29 per cent of any compensation secured.