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Iran’s defense minister under fire after jet crash

Iranian lawmakers said Sunday the country's defense minister should be fired because of a military plane crash that killed more than 100 people, mostly reporters.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iranian lawmakers said Sunday the country's defense minister should be fired because of a military plane crash that killed more than 100 people, mostly reporters.

Lawmaker Gholamhossein Mozaffari urged Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar to step down if the government did not sack him over Tuesday's disaster, when a C-130 slammed into a 10-story Tehran apartment building.

"On behalf of the families of the victims, I expect that dismissal or resignation of the defense minister is the first serious step in dealing with the crash," Mozaffari told the parliament.

Fellow parliamentarian Nourodin Pirmoazzen said 50 lawmakers have signed a petition calling for Najjar's impeachment.

The petition obligates the parliament speaker to call a session to discuss and vote on it.

It was unclear when that session would be held.

"The plane crash should have also brought the crash of the minister," lawmaker Karim Shafei said.

The four-engine turboprop had taken off for southern Iran, where military maneuvers were taking place.

It suffered engine failure and was returning to make an emergency landing at Tehran's Mehrabad airport when it lost altitude, crashed into the building and fell to the ground.

The building was set on fire. The plane's 84 passengers and 10 crew members were killed, while 21 people in the apartment building also died, for a total of 115, according to state media.

But the Tehran coroner's office said 108 people were killed.

There has been no explanation for the varying numbers.

Iran's government and parliament have announced separate investigations into the tragedy.

The judiciary has appointed a judge to probe the crash.

Victims' relatives have alleged that officials knew the plane was in poor condition after taking off following a delay of at least five hours.

Mohammad Karbalai-Ahmad, a photographer for the Hamshahri newspaper, called his wife and told her the flight had been delayed "apparently because of a technical problem and the pilot refuses to take off," the paper quoted his wife as saying.

But the army, whose air wing operated the plane, denied the craft suffered from any problems.

Iranian flights often face delays because of technical or logistical problems.

Because Iran is under U.S. sanctions imposed since the 1979 Islamic revolution, it cannot buy spare parts for American-made aircraft, such as the Lockheed-made C-130.

Officials said those U.S. sanctions were partly to blame for the crash.

"Sanctions were not without effect. The United States is using its technology as a political instrument. This is unacceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Sunday.

Iran has suffered a series of plane crashes in recent years.

In April, an Iranian military Boeing 707 with 157 people aboard skidded off a runway at Tehran airport and caught fire, killing three people.

In 2003, a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 carrying members of the elite Revolutionary Guards crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran, killing 302 people.

In 2002, a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 struck snow-covered mountains in western Iran, killing all 119 people on board.