NICOSIA Ñ 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
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
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
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.