- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

LONDON — A missile that brought down a Royal Air Force Lynx helicopter and killed five British service members was smuggled into Iraq by Iranian agents, an official inquiry into the attack will reveal.

The Sunday Telegraph has learned that a British Army Board of Inquiry (BOI) into the events surrounding the May attack will state that the weapon, a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile known as an SA14 Strella, came from Iran.

The attack, which was responsible for the death of Flight Lt. Sarah Mulvihill, the first British servicewoman to be killed on active service since World War II, appears to provide further evidence of Iran’s direct involvement in the deaths of British troops serving in Iraq.

A Defense Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the inquiry.

“The board of inquiry process has not yet been concluded. It would be wrong to speculate about the cause of the crash until this process has finished,” a ministry spokesman said.

It is understood that the inquiry, which has assessed evidence from military engineers and scientists, will conclude that the aircraft was shot down with an Iranian SA14 missile. The inquiry, which is conducted by senior air force and army officers, will deliver its finding to defense chiefs next month.

The report also will reveal whether the helicopter’s self-defense systems were working properly and whether they provided adequate protection from a missile fired from relatively short range.

Traditionally, the role of a military board of inquiry, which can examine everything from the loss of a piece of equipment to the deaths of servicemen, is not to attribute “blame” for a particular incident. Instead, senior officers make recommendations to prevent another similar incident.

The Foreign Office is expected to use the findings to step up diplomatic pressure on the Iranian government, which has been asked to crack down on units within its defense and security services believed to be supplying weapons and bomb-making technology to insurgents in Iraq.

Dozens of British soldiers have been killed in Iraq by improvised explosive devices in the form of roadside bombs, thought to have either been manufactured in Iran or by insurgents trained by the Iranians.

Hundreds of thousands of Strellas were produced by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and were used to equip armies throughout the Warsaw Pact, Central Asia and the Middle East, including Syria and Iran. The same weapon system is also thought to have been responsible for bringing down several U.S. helicopters in Iraq.

Although the weapon is cheap to produce and easy to assemble, operators need some skill to use it effectively, suggesting that the missile was fired either by an Iranian agent or by someone who had been trained by a skilled soldier.

The attack also claimed the life of the most senior British officer to have been killed in the three-year conflict, Wing Cmdr. John Coxen, 46, who was about to take over command of the British helicopter fleet in southern Iraq.

The other three men killed were the pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Darren Chapman, 40; his co-pilot, Capt. David Dobson, 27; and the door gunner, Marine Paul Collins, 21.

The Lynx Mark 7 was traveling low over central Basra on a sortie to familiarize Cmdr. Coxen with the dangers his pilots might face. Although it was believed at first that the helicopter had been brought down by a “lucky hit” from a rocket-propelled grenade, British troops found discarded missile parts in a nearby building after the incident.

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