Iranwire – In the evening of Friday, January 29, air raid sirens went off across parts of Tehran, a passenger plane landed in Baku, capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan, instead of Tehran, and access to some government and public websites was cut off in Iran. But even 20 hours after the incident, officials of the Islamic Republic had not provided any clear explanation and a deputy governor of Tehran province blamed “social media”.
“It Was Not” an Israeli Fighter Jet
Besides a few short sentences from a couple of Tehran provincial officials, Iran has yet to provide more information about this bizarre incident. Among officials’ most recent statements the following three are noteworthy:
– Quoting an unnamed “informed military official”, Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, denied “rumors that Israeli fighter jets entered the Iranian airspace. What happened last night had nothing to do with any threat that would trigger Iran’s air defense system.” According to this official, “the effective range of F-35 fighters is around 1,200 kilometers. Even if this plane flies very high and straight to save fuel, it doesn’t have enough fuel to reach central Iran.”
– In a morning news program, Shahram Adamnejad, deputy transport minister, refused to provide any information about this incident and only said that the siren had nothing to do with the ministry. He remained silent when the anchor asked him about his opinion as the representative of the transport ministry at the Tehran Disaster Mitigation and Management Organization.
– One the most unusual explanations came from Hamid Reza Goodarzi, deputy governor of Tehran for security affairs. He accused the public by saying there was no connection between the sirens and the flight path of the Turkish airliner, but “social media did not remain idle and came up with rumors.” He said the sirens were triggered by a “seepage of water” into the alarm system of “an organization” that he did not identify. At midnight, however, he had told state TV that the sirens were triggered by the malfunction of an electrical system close to Tehran’s Azmayesh district.
Denial of Crash
Residents of Tehran started tweeting about the sirens around 11:30pm. According to these tweets, the sirens lasted for at least 15 minutes in northwestern parts of Tehran. Officials were at first silent and then state TV, in a short and vague chyron, wrote that “some social media” were reporting that sirens had been heard.
At 1:43am the public relations office of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport released a statement to state-run news agency ISNA, denying the “rumors that a Turkish Airlines plane has crashed,” even though no such rumor had been going around. “The pilot of the Turkish Airlines plane diverted the plane towards Baku because of weather conditions and when atmospheric conditions stabilize this plane will return to Tehran,” the statement said. The following morning Abolghasem Jalali, deputy director of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, gave the same explanation to Tasnim news agency.
Zigzag Path Over Tehran
The change in the flight path of the Turkish airliner was especially noteworthy because the airliner followed a zigzag path in the sky over Tehran before changing course to Baku. Websites that follow and record flight paths reported the unusual circling of the plane over Tehran. Some websites and individuals who follow military events suggested that the aircraft had come close to an air defense battery for a ballistic missile production facility. Iranian military and aviation officials have not responded to these reports.
There were also reports about two other passenger planes that had been forced to circle in the skies over Tehran: a Shiraz-Tehran flight and a Cologne-Tehran flight, although both planes eventually landed in the Iranian capital.
On Saturday morning a number of media outlets in Iran reported that the website of Imam Khomeini Airport is back online. Nevertheless, this website still cannot be reached by IP addresses outside of Iran.
On Friday night several government and public websites, including those belonging to Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport and Iran’s Nuclear Energy Agency, went offline. People who tried these websites got the message that “Access to this page is currently not possible.”
No explanation has been provided as to why these websites went offline or if there was a connection with the sirens and the change in the flight path of the aircraft.
Many Twitter users sarcastically reminded their readers about previous occasions when officials completely denied events or lied about them, including during the coronavirus pandemic and the downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane over Tehran.
A tweet accompanied by a picture of a TV announcer who said that coronavirus is similar to the common cold when the pandemic started mockingly quoted her as saying, “every night I sleep to the sound of sirens.” Or, referring to a statement by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who said there are no political prisoners in Iran, another user tweeted “we have no sirens whatsoever in Iran.”
Another tweet mocked the propaganda-filled 20:30 news program on Iranian TV by saying that the sirens were actually the anti-burglar alarm of a grocery store in western Tehran and it had been this alarm that had frightened the pilot of the Turkish airliner.
One tweet made fun of President Hassan Rouhani’s remark about nationwide protests in November 2019, quoting him as saying, “I just learned this Saturday morning that our friends sounded the sirens.” And another user tweeted that Health Minister Saeed Namaki “has apologized to the Exalted Supreme Leader for the sound of sirens in Tehran.”