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US Fighter Jet within Visual Range of Iranian Passenger Plane, But at Safe Distance: US Officials Says

FILE - A U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jet takes off from Incirlik Air Base, near Adana, Turkey, Dec. 15, 2015.

A U.S. F-15 fighter jet came within visual range of an Iranian passenger aircraft Thursday but it was at a safe distance, two U.S. officials told Reuters.

The U.S. jet was on a routine mission near the At Tanf garrison in Syria and conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner from about 1,000 meters away, said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command. The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison.

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

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the incident took place over Syria.

Earlier IRIB news agency reported that two U.S. fighter jets came close to an Iranian passenger plane over Syrian airspace, causing the pilot to change altitude quickly to avoid collision and injuring several passengers.

The incident is likely to ramp up tensions between longtime foes Iran and the United States.

The agency initially said a single Israeli jet had come near the plane but later quoted the pilot as saying there were two jets that identified themselves as American.

The pilot of the passenger plane contacted the jet pilots to warn them to keep a safe distance and they identified themselves as American, IRIB reported.

Video posted by the agency showed a single jet from the window of the plane and comments from a passenger who had blood on his face.

The Iranian plane, belonging to Mahan Air, was heading from Tehran to Beirut and landed safely in Beirut, an airport source told Reuters.

An Israeli military spokesman had no immediate comment and there was no immediate comment from the U.S. military.

The incident is being investigated and Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the necessary legal and political action would be taken, according to the Foreign Ministry website.

Israel and the United States have long accused Mahan Air of ferrying weapons for Iranian-linked guerrillas in Syria and elsewhere.

The United States imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.

Tensions have spiked between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that have battered Iran's economy.

One passenger quoted in the IRIB report described how his head had hit the roof of the plane during the change in altitude and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor.

All of the passengers left the plane, some with minor injuries, the head of the Beirut airport told Reuters.

The plane arrived back in Tehran in the early hours of Friday morning, the Fars news agency reported.

FILE - A U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jet takes off from Incirlik Air Base, near Adana, Turkey, Dec. 15, 2015.
FILE - A U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jet takes off from Incirlik Air Base, near Adana, Turkey, Dec. 15, 2015.

VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.