Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The Iranian government denied Monday it attempted to cover up the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian airliner last week, after it took Tehran three days to acknowledge a missile brought down the plane.
The Ukraine International Airlines flight crashed after takeoff from the airport in Tehran on Wednesday. Initially, Iranian officials said a mechanical failure likely caused the crash, which killed all 176 on board. On Saturday -- after U.S. intelligence said evidence indicated it was shot down by a missile and several denials by Tehran -- the Iranian government finally acknowledged the true cause.
"In these sorrowful days, many criticisms were directed at relevant officials and authorities ... some officials were even accused of lying and a coverup but, in all honesty, that was not the case," government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Monday.
Rabiei said Tehran only learned about the accidental strike Friday, the same day its civil aviation chief said it was "impossible" the plane was brought down by a missile. U.S. officials cited satellite and radar data as evidence a missile hit the jetliner, which occurred around the same time Iran launched two missile attacks at bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops.
"The point is that we did not lie," Rabiei added, while also blaming the United States for "spreading the shadow of war over Iran."
"Lying means conscious and deliberate falsification of the truth. Such a thing never took place," he added.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said it took days to acknowledge the missile strike because investigators were looking down every possible avenue.
"The announcement of the real cause of the Ukrainian plane crash took some time due to the necessity of examining all the possible theories, including 'possible enemy actions in jamming,' 'hacking of systems' 'infiltration,' and other related factors," he said.
Most of the 176 people aboard the plane were Iranian and Canadian citizens. On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured the victims' families the government will not rest until it secures justice.
"This tragedy should have never occurred, and I want to assure you that you have my full support during this extraordinarily difficult time ... You give us purpose to pursue justice and accountability for you," Trudeau said during a memorial service in the western province of Alberta.
"I want to assure all families and all Canadians, we will not rest until there are answers. We will not rest until there is justice and accountability."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani apologized Saturday, and dozens of demonstrators marched in Tehran and demanded the resignation of religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The protests spread to at least a dozen cities outside the capital, and Tehran security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and some live ammunition to disperse the crowds.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday warned Iran against harming protesters.
"The world is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching, he tweeted.
In a rare apology, Gen. Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, said he wished he was among the doomed passengers of Flight 752, and that the military is sadder than anyone else over the crash, Iran's Fars News Agency reported.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the prosecutor general has opened an investigation into the "murders" of 11 Ukrainian citizens who were on board the plane and that Kiev will provide financial assistance. Iran has also pledged financial aid.
Another airbase in Balad, Iraq, was targeted by more missiles on Sunday. It formerly housed U.S. troops, but is now manned by Iraqi forces. At least four Iraqi troops were hurt in the attack, and the missiles were of Russian origin, officials said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by calling on Iraq to hold the attackers responsible.
"These continued violations of Iraq's sovereignty by groups not loyal to the Iraqi government must end," he said.