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Edmonton Iranian leader calls for truth behind plane crash that killed dozens of Canadians

Click to play video: 'News that Iran plane shot down disturbing to those who knew Edmonton victims' News that Iran plane shot down disturbing to those who knew Edmonton victims
WATCH ABOVE: Word that the Ukrainian aircraft was likely brought down by an air missile is devastating for those who knew the many Edmonton victims of the deadly crash. Fletcher Kent reports – Jan 9, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Community leaders initially believed that 27 people with Edmonton connections died in the plane crash. However, they and Global News, have confirmed 13. We have updated this story to reflect the new information.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 10, the Canadian government updated the number of Canadians killed in the Jan. 8 Ukraine International Airlines crash in Iran from 63 to 57.

Intelligence from multiple sources indicates an Iranian missile downed the Ukraine International Airlines flight that crashed near Tehran on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday afternoon.

He said the strike might have been unintentional, but the news “will undoubtedly come as a further shock to the families who are already grieving in the face of this unspeakable tragedy.”

READ MORE: Trudeau says Iranian missile likely brought down plane, killing dozens of Canadians

The crash killed all on board, including 138 people who were headed to Canada. At least 63 people on the plane were Canadians — and at lest 13 had connections to Edmonton.

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“It is scary. It is very scary,” said Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, about the news the plane was likely shot down.

“When I put myself in the shoes of the family, it’s a huge difference. It changes the whole scenario of who is responsible for this.”

Akbari emphasized the heritage society has no political or religious affiliations and is focused on helping the families of the victims. That said, he stressed families, friends and all Canadians need to know what happened.

Click to play video: 'Aviation expert offers his thoughts on Iran plane crash' Aviation expert offers his thoughts on Iran plane crash
Aviation expert offers his thoughts on Iran plane crash – Jan 9, 2020

“Everybody deserves to know the truth,” he said, adding he hopes the black box data from the plane is shared with agencies who have the capacity to analyze the information and provide a report on what happened.

“We’re talking of death of brilliant people, kids — regardless of their education level, regardless of their age — they’re human beings.”

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“Regardless of right, wrong, anything — [the] people who paid for it, they had absolutely nothing to do with it.”

READ MORE: Iran won’t give up black box from Tehran plane crash. Here’s what you need to know

Iran has said it will not give the black box to Boeing, which made the plane, or the United States. The devices — which are not actually black as the name suggests, but bright orange so they’re easier to find in the event of a crash — contain flight data recorders.

Edmonton Iranian leader calls for truth behind plane crash that killed dozens of Canadians - image

Legally, Iran has no obligation to hand over the devices. However, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules state the country is required to produce a preliminary report stating the basic facts within 30 days.

“The family and friends of those people, Canadians — they have a right to know what happened there. And what was the reason behind this,” Akbari said.

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READ MORE: Alberta newlyweds married for just a week died in Iran plane crash

Many of the victims from Edmonton had connections to the University of Alberta, seen as one of the top research universities in the country for engineering, energy and environment programs.

Edmonton has around 4,300 people of Iranian origin, according to a 2016 Statistics Canada census. Akbari estimates the local Iranian community is actually closer to 5,000 people, and up to 6,000 when international students are included.

READ MORE: Over 20 Canadian universities and colleges mourn students, faculty killed in Iran plane crash

While high tensions between the U.S. and Iran in the wake of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general are likely connected to the incident, Trudeau said a full investigation is required to establish exactly what happened. Akbari agrees.

“Regardless [of] if it was [an] accident or was intentional or unintentional, it shows that when an escalation of a situation gets to that high level, anything can happen and that’s scary,” he said.
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The plane crash unfolded mere hours after Iran sent missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Iran’s military quickly disputed any suggestion that the plane had been hit by a missile, insisting the incident was related to a mechanical issue.

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization has denied the allegations of the plane being shot down, calling them “illogical rumours,” according to state-run news.

READ MORE: Timeline: Canada’s diplomatic relationship with Iran

Mourners place candles and photographs during a vigil outside the Alberta Legislature Building in Edmonton on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. Codie McLachlan, The Canadian Press

While devastating for those immediately affected, Akbari said the tragedy has also been challenging for other members of the Persian community — himself included.

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“It’s been very challenging — a difficult moment emotionally,” he said, adding he’s never experienced anything like this.

Akbari said the society members have been working non-stop since the news of the crash broke, informing families of what happened and listening to their stories in return – something Akbari said the volunteer group never expected to do.

READ MORE: Vigil pays tribute to Edmonton victims of Iran plane crash: ‘We all need each other’

Exhausted and headed home at 3 a.m. Thursday, he said they reflected on the events of the past two days.

“At the time when we’re leaving their office, we were just like, ‘We never thought when we come as a volunteer to help a cultural organization, will never thought there would be a day that we spend his many hours and hearing about the stories of people who lost their life in the tragedy.

“And certainly, we feel that obligation to serve our community and I think that’s absolutely right things to do – it’s just been certainly difficult.”

The focus now is on honouring the dead. A memorial service is being held on Sunday, Jan. 12 at the Saville Community Sports Centre (11610 65 Ave.) Doors open at 2 p.m. and the memorial service is from 3 to 5 p.m.

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Click to play video: 'More details on Edmonton victims of Tehran plane crash' More details on Edmonton victims of Tehran plane crash
More details on Edmonton victims of Tehran plane crash – Jan 8, 2020

– With files from The Associated Press, Reuters and Global News’ Kerri Breen and Rachael D’Amore

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