Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei called President Donald Trump a "clown" as he defended Iran's military after it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, in a relatively rare public address that came as he led Friday prayers in Tehran.
The last time Khamanei delivered a sermon to a crowd during Friday prayers was in 2012, on the 33rd anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. The supreme leader called for "national unity" and described Iran's accidental downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flights 752 as a "bitter" tragedy, but one that should not overshadow the "sacrifice" of a top commander killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq days earlier.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corp shot down Ukraine's jetliner just hours after its missiles targeted U.S. forces on two bases in Iraq, which was retaliation for the Trump administration's killing of Iran's Gen. Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad on Jan. 3.
All 176 passengers and crew aboard Ukraine's commercial plane were killed. No one died in Iran's strikes on U.S. troops in Iraq. However, the Pentagon said late Thursday at least 11 Americans were injured, a statement that contradicts Trump's public remarks about the incident,.
Fallout: 11 US troops treated for injuries after Iran missile attack
In his address Friday, Khamanei lashed out at Trump and the U.S., calling Soleimani's killing a "cowardly act" while Iran's response had "dealt a blow to America's image" as a great power. He reiterated his vow to force U.S. troops out of the region. About 62,000 American military personnel are spread across the broader Middle East on land and sea from airfields in Turkey to a large naval base in the Gulf state of Bahrain.
Iran on Trump (Jan. 2020): 'Clown.' Russia on Trump (May 2019): 'This clown.' North Korea on Trump (Sept. 2017, Dec. 2019: 'Dotard.'
- Kim Hjelmgaard (@khjelmgaard) January 17, 2020
Iranian authorities initially denied shooting down Ukraine's plane, but later did an about-face after mounting international pressure. Earlier in the week, Iran announced it had made arrests in connection with the incident, but provided no further details.
Middle East tensions: Iran claims revenge for Soleimani. U.S. Navy is still a target
A senior Iranian air force commander previously publicly acknowledged that a member of Iran's military under his command fired a missile at the plane thinking the country was under attack from U.S. forces after the strike in Iraq. Amirali Hajizadeh said at a briefing in Tehran on Jan. 11 that the man who fired the missile had just 10 seconds to make a decision. "Unfortunately, he made a bad decision," the aerospace division chief said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei calls Trump a 'clown'