BANDAR ABBAS, Iran—Iranian helicopters scattered flowers into the Persian Gulf waters on Saturday as family members and relatives remembered the 290 passengers killed when a U.S. warship shot down an Iranian airliner 22 years ago.
About 250 relatives of victims and officials sailed from the southern port city of Bandar Abbas to the spot where the Iran Air A300 Airbus was downed on July 3, 1988—just a month before the end of the Iraq-Iran war.
The USS Vincennes shot down the airliner shortly after it took off from Bandar Abbas for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Washington said the Vincennes mistook the airliner for a hostile Iranian fighter jet. Iran maintains it was a deliberate attack.
The commemoration comes as Tehran is further embroiled in a bitter standoff with the West over its controversial nuclear program. As tensions with the U.S. increased in recent years, the anniversary has become an annual outpouring of anger at America, and has drawn wider coverage in state media. Iranian television on Saturday showed 1988 footage of the remains of the victim’s bodies.
“No one buys the faulty claim that a sophisticated warship … mistook a passenger plane for a fighter jet, two-thirds smaller,” said Hesam Ansari, who lost his father in the crash.
The relatives wept as they threw red and pink flower petals from the deck of a ferry into the sea where the plane crashed.
A statement from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was read out at the ceremony, saying the “disaster was not an understandable accident, but a declaration of war against humanity” and claiming it was carried out “with the covert planning of White House leaders.”
Local provincial governor Hossein Hashemi Takhti called it an act of terrorism.
Iran has called for the commander of USS Vincennes at the time, William C. Rogers III, to be brought to trial. In 1990, then-President George H. W. Bush awarded Rogers the Legion of Merit for his service as a commanding officer.
“In which culture … can that Legion of Merit be awarded to the criminal USS Vincennes commander,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
Iran has said it received $130 million from a 1996 settlement that included compensation for families of the victims.