Two US fighter jets “approached” an Iranian passenger plane over Syrian airspace forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing, and leaving a number of passengers injured, Iran’s official IRIB news agency reported on Thursday.
The Iranian Mahan Air aircraft, which was heading from Tehran to Beirut, landed in the Lebanese capital, IRIB said.
The pilot of the passenger plane contacted the jet pilots to warn them about keeping a safe distance and they identified themselves as American, IRIB added.
The US military's Central Command, which oversees American troops in the region, said that a single F-15 fighter jet came within visual range of the Iranian passenger aircraft but was at a safe distance.
"A US F-15 on a routine air mission in the vicinity of the... Tanf garrison in Syria conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters from the airliner this evening. The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at Tanf garrison," Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command said.
"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," he added.
Three Lebanese passengers were injured and taken to a hospital by an ambulance from the airport in Beirut, and several crew members were also injured.
“The details of this incident are under investigation,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency cited Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying.
Iran will take the “necessary political and legal measures” once investigations are concluded, Mousavi said.
A regional diplomat, who spoke to Al Arabiya English on condition of anonymity, questioned the route of the plane, and said that was not a regular flight path for airlines.
Iranian state media initially reported that an Israeli jet had come near the Mahan Air plane.
Israel and the US have long accused Mahan Air of ferrying weapons for Iranian-linked guerrillas in Syria and elsewhere.
A Mahan Air pilot said last month that the airline transferred tons of “illicit cargo” to Syria in 2013 using a civilian airliner with hundreds of passengers on board and with slain Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani in the cockpit.