Iran slammed the United States on Friday for risking a “disaster” after US warplanes’ fly-by of an Iranian civilian airliner over Syria led it to rapidly change altitude to avoid collision, injuring and panicking passengers.
“US illegally occupies territory of another state and then harasses a scheduled civil airliner — endangering innocent civilian passengers — ostensibly to protect its occupation forces. Audacity to compound lawlessness upon lawlessness,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter. "These outlaws must be stopped before disaster."
Iranian TV video footage of the inside of the Iranian airliner shows a passenger lying immobile on the floor and another with a wounded nose and forehead, presenting his bloodied face mask to the camera.
Several passengers, some seen screaming and shouting, were injured in the flight maneuver over Syria.
Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami said on Friday Iran had lodged a formal complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), describing Thursday's incident as a "terrorist act, one of aggression".
“Our passenger plane has been flying in the international commercial trajectory and corridor and the threat of the US fighter jets was illegal and inhumane,” he added.
Iran’s vice president for legal affairs dismissed a US account that the jets were merely conducting a visual inspection.
"The explanations provided so far (by the US military) are unjustified and unconvincing," Laya Joneydi said.
"The harassment of a passenger plane on the territory of a third country is a clear violation of aviation security and freedom of civilian aircraft."
The Iranian plane, belonging to Mahan Air, was heading from Tehran to Beirut at the time. Iran's Foreign Ministry said the encounter would be investigated.
Video footage shows oxygen masks fallen from the overhead roof panels. One jet can be seen through a seat window flying some distance away in a clear blue sky.
"I saw a black plane approaching us, and then we lost our balance," one injured passenger told Iranian TV.
"It was a jet. Almost so near our plane."
One of the passengers was lying on the floor by the toilets and another passenger put a cushion under his head as cabin crew tended to others.
Another video apparently shot on a phone appeared to show at least two fighter jets flying beside the plane.
IRNA said the Mahan Air pilot made contact on the radio with two US fighter planes, and that the aircraft later landed safely in the Lebanese capital.
The US military’s Central Command, which oversees American troops in the region, said an F-15 aircraft was conducting a visual inspection of the Iranian plane when it passed near the Tanf garrison in Syria, home to US forces.
Captain Bill Urban, the senior Central Command spokesman, said the jet was 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) from the airliner.
CENTCOM insisted it was a "professional intercept... conducted in accordance with international standards".
"Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft," it said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said that Iran had been in touch with both the United Nations and the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which has handled US interests in Iran since relations were severed in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
"If anything happens to the aircraft on its return flight, Iran will hold the United States responsible," Mousavi told IRNA.
Syrian state media said that "planes believed to belong to the US-led coalition intercepted" the Iranian airliner over the Tanf district on the border with Jordan and Iraq, forcing the captain to make "a sharp drop".
Palestinian resistance groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad condemned on Friday the incident as “harassment” and an “act of terror”.
Hamas said the US fighter jets endangered passengers by flying close to the airplane.
Islamic Jihad said, “The terrorist incident shows the hostile intentions of the United States and its role in posing a threat to the security of our region.”
Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.