U.S. fighter jets near Iranian passenger plane, says state media – NBC News

Two U.S. fighter jets came within close range of an Iranian airliner on Thursday, forcing its pilot to swiftly change altitude and injuring passengers, Iranian state media reported.

Footage shot by a reporter for Iranian state TV aboard the flight purportedly captured the commotion inside the aircraft. It shows one man with a bloodied face and another lying motionless on the aircraft floor. At least one passenger was pictured wearing her inflated yellow life jacket seemingly preparing herself for a crash landing.

The pilot of the passenger jet, which semi-official news agency Farsnews said was flying from Tehran to Beirut, told state television IRINN that the pilots of two fighter jets which approached his aircraft had introduced themselves as American.

Close-up of a passenger sitting by window with blood on his face in a screenshot from footage purportedly shot by a reporter for Iranian state TV.IRIB via The Associated Press

Meanwhile, Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement that an American fighter jet conducted a visual inspection of the airline at a “safe distance.”

It was not immediately clear why Iranian state media reported that two fighter jets approached the passenger aircraft but the United States said a single F-15 conducted the inspection. NBC News could not immediately verify either account.

Earlier, Iranian state media had reported that the fighter jets were Israeli. A spokesman for the Israeli military said it was not commenting on any foreign reports on this incident.

The U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees American troops in the region, said the F-15 aircraft was conducting a visual inspection of the Iranian plane at approximately 1,000 meters (around 1094 yards) when it passed near the Tanf garrison in Syria where coalition forces are present.

“Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft,” said Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command. “The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.”

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The incident, about which details remain scant, could further ratchet up tensions between the two countries, which have worsened dramatically since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

On Jan. 3, the U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani an Iranian general in a drone strike which later prompted Tehran to launch ballistic missiles targeting American forces in Iraq.

Last year, U.S. Marines jammed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz bringing the aircraft down and destroying it.

Thursday’s incident recalls the July 3, 1988 downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. Navy. The Iranian government often points to that event as one of the many incidents that has caused the decades-long rift between Washington and Tehran.

A Mahan Air Airbus A310-304 in Moscow, Russia, similar to the one involved in Thursday’s incident. Iliya Pitalev / Sputnik via AP file

Following the the encounter, an adviser of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Hesamodin Ashna, tweeted what appeared to be a veiled threat against the U.S.

“One who minds the lives of its leaders does not play with the lives of our passengers,” he said.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has said in a statement that the incident was under investigation.

It added that a protest note was sent to the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran, warning that if any accident happens on the plane’s return flight to Tehran it would be the responsibility of the United States.

The plane landed in Beirut before returning to Tehran where it touched down around 3 a.m. local time on Friday (6.30 p.m. Thursday ET), according to Iranian state media.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtney Kube contributed.