A top commander of the hard-line Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said Friday that his forces could have shot down a U.S. Navy P8 plane with 35 people of board on the same day it downed an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone, but “refrained” from doing so to send a message to Washington.
The comments by Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, challenge one scenario floated by President Trump about the incident early Thursday morning — that the U.S. drone may have been downed by a rogue Iranian general or military unit doing something “loose and stupid.”
Mr. Trump claimed on Twitter Friday he called off a planned U.S. retaliatory strike against Iran at the last minute after being informed the mission could kill some 150 Iranians on the ground.
Gen. Hajizadeh told the state-controlled IRNA news agency his forces deliberately targeted the unmanned drone and not the P8, a Boeing plane that was developed in part to operate alongside drone aircraft.
“At the moment the [drone] was intercepted, another U.S. military stealth aircraft dubbed P8 was flying next to it with 35 personnel on board,” the commander reportedly told IRNA. “We could have targeted that, too, but we refrained from doing that.”
“We intended to send a message to American terrorists in the region,” Gen. Hajizadeh said, claiming that Iran had issued multiple warnings to U.S. aircraft in the past that had been ignored.
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Iranian officials insisted to IRNA that the U.S. surveillance drone had violated Iranian airspace and that debris from the craft had been recovered in Iranian territorial waters. The Pentagon has strongly denied that, saying the drone was flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz when it was shot down.