An Iraqi militant group claimed responsibility today for shooting down an RAF Hercules transport plane with a missile, killing ten British servicemen and backed up their claim with a video.
The video – on Arab satellite TV station al-Jazeera – showed pictures of a finger pressing a button, then pictures of a missile flying up into the air.
The video did not show the missile hitting a plane. Instead, it cut to footage of a plane’s wreckage burning on the ground.
A spokesman for al-Jazeera said the television station received the video from a group that called itself the "Green Brigade, which is one of the brigades of the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade, a military wing of the National Islamic Resistance in Iraq".
It was not immediately possible to determine if the wreckage was that of the British C-130 that crashed on Sunday. But the footage showed the burning wreckage scattered over a wide area, and British officials have said the wreckage was widely scattered.
An al-Jazeera announcer said the rebels said on a statement accompanying the video that more than 40 people were killed when the plane went down, including officers.
Britain has said 10 servicemen are missing and presumed dead.
An insurgent group called The 1920 Revolution Brigade of the National Islamic Resistance in Iraq first emerged in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle in July 2003. But the Green Brigade of that group has not been heard of before.
Another group, al-Qaida linked Ansar al-Islam, previously had issued a claim on a website that it was responsible for bringing down the four engined transport plane with an anti-tank missile. It provided no evidence of the claim
The Ansar al-Islam group said its fighters tracked the aircraft, “which was flying at a low altitude, and fired an anti-tank missile at it".
The plane was flying from Baghdad to the town of Balad, a US military official said.
“Thanks be to God, the plane was downed and a huge fire and black clouds of smoke were seen rising from the location of the crash,” said the al-Islam statement.
British and US military officials have not said what they think caused the crash, which occurred about a half hour after polls closed in Iraq’s elections.
Established after the 9/11 attacks, Ansar al-Islam is one of Iraq’s older extremist groups and it has been linked to al-Qaida.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed there were deaths in the crash, but did say how many as he paid tribute to the casualties in a televised speech praising Iraq’s election.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives today. They can be so proud of what their loved ones accomplished. This country and the wider world will never forget them,” he said.
One of then ten men who died in the Hercules become the first Australian serviceman killed on military duty in Iraq.
Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel, 35, a father of three from Victoria, had joint British and Australian citizenship.
His father, John, 78, from Melbourne, said British High Commission officials rang to tell him and his wife Margaret of their son’s death.
“Nobody really knows what’s happened,” Pardoel said. “I spoke to his group captain at the British High Commission, who happens to know him, and he said it’s a pity, he is a nice, upstanding young man.”
Pardoel formerly served in the Royal Australian Air Force but was serving with the RAF at the time of his death.
The Australian Defence Force announced the death in a statement.
Australia, a close ally of the United States and Britain, sent 2,000 troops to take part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and still has about 900 military personnel stationed in and around the country in non-combat roles.
Although Australian forces have been targeted several times by insurgents, none had been killed.
Pardoel his wife and young son and daughters had been living in England for the past three years.