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Iranians clarify incident involving planes

THE WORLD

News agency says no Americans were on jet that was forced to land.

October 08, 2008|Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi | Special to The Times

TEHRAN — An Iranian news agency issued a report Tuesday describing a confrontation between Iranian jet fighters and an aircraft with American military personnel on board, triggering confusion and jitters around the globe and denials by both governments.

Late in the day, the news service backed down.

The Fars News Agency, in an initial report carried widely by international media, said an American plane carrying five high-ranking U.S. military officials and three nonmilitary personnel had been forced by Iranian fighter jets to land at an unidentified airport in recent days after crossing into Iran's territory from Turkey without permission.

The plane was described as a Falcon, a small jet made by the French firm Dassault and typically used by business executives. The plane was later allowed to travel on after those on board were interrogated at length, the report said.

Iranian and U.S. officials quickly discounted the report.

U.S. military officials in Washington said they had no knowledge of such an incident.

A ranking Iranian official denounced the Fars report as a badly mangled account of a routine event.

"It was not an American plane," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Then the Hungarian Defense Ministry announced that an aircraft taking Hungarian military officials to Afghanistan had been forced to land in Iran for a time in a mix-up over whether it had permission to enter Iranian airspace, the Associated Press reported.

Finally, late in the day, the Fars news service acknowledged that those aboard the plane were not Americans and had not been subject to lengthy interrogation. Fars said the incident occurred Sept. 30.

Iran and the U.S. did not need additional sources of tension: The nations are already locked in a standoff over Iran's nuclear program and alleged support for militant groups around the Middle East.

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daragahi@latimes.com

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Daragahi from Beirut.

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