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Khamenei Says Iran Has The Right To Avenge Downing Of Jet

July 5, 1988

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ President Ali Khamenei of Iran said today his country has the right to avenge the victims of the Iran Air jetliner shot down by the U.S. Navy, Tehran Radio reported.

He did not say if, how or when Tehran would seek revenge. Iran said all 290 people aboard the aircraft were killed in Sunday’s missile attack by the USS Vincennes.

The radio, monitored in Nicosia, quoted Khamenei as saying: ″Iran considers it to be its definite right to avenge the blood of innocent children, men and women.″

Iran’s military commander-in-chief, Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani, declared in another report on Tehran Radio: ″We cannot allow ourselves to refrain from taking revenge. The choice of timing is up to us, and not to America.″

The radio said Rafsanjani called the downing of the plane ″an unprecedented disaster.″

Also today, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah was quoted as saying in Beirut that Western hostages in Lebanon should not suffer because of the missile attack on the Iran Air jet. Fadlallah is spirtual guide for Hezbollah, the Shiite Moslem group believed to be an umbrella for the captors of most of the 18 foreign hostages in Lebanon.

However, an anonymous caller purporting to speak for Islamic Jihad, which holds Americans Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland, threatened to kill one of them in revenge. It was not possible to authenticate the call. Islamic Jihad has said it would authenticate its statements with photographs of the hostages.

A U.S. State Department official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said ″there is no confirmation there is any connection to Hezbollah or that this is a legitimate thing.″

In Tehran, mass funeral services were scheduled today and Wednesday for some of those killed in the attack.

Iran’s revolutionary patriarch, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 87, vowed Monday to dedicate his ″worthless life″ to fighting the United States. His designated heir, Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, called for total war.

Foreign Minister Ali-Akhbar Velayati said Iran’s revenge would extend to countries that have helped the United States in the Persian Gulf. He did not elaborate.

Iranian divers searched for more bodies from the Iran Air Airbus A300, which was destroyed on a 150-mile flight from the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas to Dubai, across the Strait of Hormuz in the United Arab Emirates.

Tehran radio quoted a senior official of the state-run Iran Air as saying 200 bodies had been recovered.

In another Iranian report, an unidentified commander of the search and rescue operation was quoted as saying the bodies had been recovered up to five miles from the area where most of the jetliner’s debris fell. It was hit at 7,500 feet by at least one of two missiles fired by the Vincennes.

According to the Iranian reports, the bodies of 38 non-Iranians have been recovered - 12 United Arab Emirates citizens, eight Indians, eight Pakistanis, six Yugoslavs, two Kuwaitis, an Italian and an Afghan.

The United States said the crew of the cruiser Vincennes mistook the plane for an Iranian F-14 fighter and said it failed to respond to seven radio warnings.

An Italian naval spokesman said today that an Italian frigate in the gulf heard the Vincennes radioing an approaching aircraft, requesting identification and change of course. However, the spokesman, Capt. Alfredo Saitto, said the Italian ship could not determine whether the Iranian airliner was flying outside the commercial air corridor, as Italian officials had said Monday.

In Dubai, about 400 mourners gathered Monday for a memorial service at a Shiite mosque and regularly burst into chants of ″Death to America.″

On Tehran radio Monday, Khomeini said: ″We must all be prepared for a real war and go to the war fronts and fight against America and its lackeys. I donate my worthless life for the sake of our victory.″

Khomeini is rumored to be in poor health or near death, but the radio did not explain what he meant by his last comment.

Iran accuses the United States of backing Iraq in its nearly 8-year-old war with Iran.

Update hourly