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Teheran agents smuggled in missile that shot down RAF helicopter in Iraq, inquiry finds

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Sunday Telegraph: A missile which brought down an RAF Lynx helicopter and killed five British Service personnel was smuggled into Iraq by Iranian agents, an official inquiry into the attack will reveal. The Sunday Telegraph

By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph

A missile which brought down an RAF Lynx helicopter and killed five British Service personnel was smuggled into Iraq by Iranian agents, an official inquiry into the attack will reveal.

The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that a British Army Board of Inquiry (BOI) into the events surrounding last May’s attack will state that the weapon, a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile known as an SA14 Strella, came from Iran.

The attack, which was also responsible for the death of Flt Lt Sarah Mulvihill, the first British servicewoman to be killed on active service since the Second World War, appears to provide further evidence of Iran’s direct involvement in the deaths of British troops serving in Iraq.

It is understood that the inquiry, which has assessed evidence from military engineers and scientists, will conclude that the aircraft was shot down with an Iranian SA14 missile. The inquiry, which is conducted by senior RAF and Army officers, will deliver its finding to defence chiefs next month.

The report will also reveal whether the helicopter’s self-defence systems were working properly and whether they provided adequate protection from a missile fired from relatively short range.

Traditionally, the role of a military board of inquiry, which can examine everything from the loss of a piece of equipment to the deaths of servicemen, is not to attribute “blame” for a particular incident. Instead, senior officers make recommendations as to how a similar situation might be prevented.

The Foreign Office is expected to use the findings to step up diplomatic pressure on the Iranian government, which has been asked to crack down on units within its defence and security services believed to be supplying weapons and bomb-making technology to insurgents in Iraq.

Dozens of British soldiers have been killed in Iraq by improvised explosive devices in the form of roadside bombs, thought to have either been manufactured in Iran or by insurgents trained by the Iranians.

Hundreds of thousands of Strellas were produced by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and were used to equip armies throughout the Warsaw Pact, central Asia and the Middle East, including Syria and Iran. The same weapon system is also believed to have been responsible for bringing down several US helicopters in Iraq.

Although the weapon is cheap to produce and easy to assemble, operators need some skill to use it effectively, suggesting that the missile was fired either by an Iranian agent or by someone who had been trained by a skilled soldier.

The attack also claimed the life of the most senior officer to have been killed in the three-year conflict, Wg Cdr John Coxen, 46, who was about to take over command of the British helicopter fleet in southern Iraq.

The other three men killed were the pilot, Lt-Cdr Darren Chapman, 40, his co-pilot, Capt David Dobson, 27, and the door gunner, Marine Paul Collins, 21.

The Lynx Mark 7 was travelling low over central Basra on a sortie to familiarise Wg Cdr Coxen with the dangers that his pilots might face. Although it was believed at first that the helicopter had been brought down by a “lucky hit” from a rocket-propelled grenade, British troops found discarded missile parts in a nearby building after the incident.

Patrick Mercer, the shadow minister for homeland security and a former infantry commanding officer, said: “This is another indication of a deeply dangerous escalating situation about which the Government has got to come clean. It’s no good pretending that these things are not happening. When British servicemen are being killed, the Government has got to be far more robust than this.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “The board of inquiry process has not yet been concluded. It would be wrong to speculate about the cause of the crash until this process has finished.”

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