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Crash of Iranian transport kills 300, including senior officers

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Thursday, February 20, 2003

NICOSIA Iran's military has been dealt a blow by the crash of an airplane that killed more than 300 troops, including commanders of the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Russian-built Ilyushin Il-76 military transport crashed on Wednesday evening near the city of Kerman. The official Iranian news agency Irna reported that 302 people were killed, all of them members of the Revolutionary Guards.

Western diplomatic sources said a large number of senior officers were aboard the aircraft. The sources said the contingent was headed for the Pakistani border. The Revolutionary Guard has been responsible for Teheran's harboring of and liasion with Al Qaida, members of which have fled to Iran over the last year, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials ruled out the prospect of sabotage. They cited bad weather and the possibility of a technical mishap.

The news agency did not detail the mission of the aircraft. But it said the Revolutionary Guards contingent was carrying out an "important duty."

"All those aboard were the personnel of Division 41 of Sarallah of the Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps," Mohammad Ali Karimi, the governor of Kerman, said.

The Revolutionary Guard contingent were members of the Imam Ali battalion. The battalion is based in the Sistan Baluchestan province near the Persian Gulf and the Pakistani border.

The Revolutionary Guard, said to number 120,000, is the most senior military unit in Iran and is under the direct control of the ruling clergy. The corps is said to control Iran's missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.

The crash near Kerman was the latest failure of a Russian-built military aircraft in Iran. In December, an Antonov transport plane crashed, killing all 46 people aboard. In February 2002, a Tupolev 154 crashed, killing all 117 people on board.

In 1999, Iran bought 12 AN-74 military transports. Iran, in partnership with Ukraine, is also producing the Iran-140, based on Soviet-origin aircraft. Iranian parliamentarians have called for a halt to the program amid what they assert are technical flaws in the aircraft.

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