MH17 shot down by rebels with missile from Russia, say investigators
Rebels were responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine and killing all 298 people on board, international prosecutors have found.
A report by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said there was "no doubt" the missile that downed the plane was brought in from Russia and fired from rebel-controlled territory, during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Dutch Central Crime Investigation Department, played a press conference intercepted phone conversations between rebel fighters discussing the arrival of a Buk missile system.
“It may be concluded MH17 was shot down by a 9M38 missile launched by a Buk, brought in from the territory of the Russian Federation, and that after launch was subsequently returned to the Russian Federation,” he added.
“The conclusion is that MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile launched from a site around 6km south of the village of Snizhne.”
Investigators pinpointed the launch site atop a hill in farmland west of Pervomaiskyi, saying witnesses photographed a smoke trail and reported hearing the sound of it being fired.
They traced the convoy carrying the Buk, originally with four missiles, from the Russian border through Donetsk, Torez, Snizhne and on to the launch site in the hours before MH17 was downed.
Officials said the weapon was escorted by pro-Russian fighters, with its path recorded by numerous videos and images recorded by members of the public, before being returned to Russia after the launch - with one missile missing.
When questioned by journalists, members of the JIT would not specifically name the militia or faction responsible for firing the missile but said they were investigating numerous individuals as well as the chain of command that led to the downing.
Prosecutors detailed evidence of 3,500 intercepted conversations and extensive test detonations, adding that some evidence was being held back because of continuing investigations into perpetrators.
The probe aims to identify those behind the attack on the passenger plane as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on 17 July 2014.
More than 100 potential suspects have been identified but no one was named by officials, who said investigations continued, as well as a probe into what happened to the Buk after it crossed back into Russia.
Silene Fredriksz, whose son Bryce was on the flight with his girlfriend, Daisy, had expected investigators to confirm long-held suspicions that pro-Russian groups were responsible.
“We will be able to deduce whether it was Russian or Ukrainian and I think we will just get a confirmation of what we have thought for months: that is was the prior,” she said ahead of the report’s release.
“This is an important step. As a family we are impatient. We want to know what happened, how it happened and why. We want those responsible to face justice.”
A separate investigation completed by the Dutch Safety Board last year concluded that the plane was downed by a warhead fired by a Buk system that detonated a metre away.
It fired around 800 “high energy” fragments into the cockpit, killing the three crew members inside immediately and causing the Boeing 777 to break up in the air.
Shortly after MH17’s disappearance, a post attributed to separatist leader Igor Girkin, a Russian army veteran known as Strelkov, claimed rebels had shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane.
The swiftly-deleted post on Russian social network VKontakte was accompanied by a video of rising smoke and said: “We warned them - don’t fly in our sky.”
Intercepted phone calls between rebels also appeared to show their involvement, with an alleged recording dated on 18 July 2014 showing a man saying the launcher had been brought from Russia by a contact code-named “the Librarian”.
Recordings released by the Security Service of Ukraine appeared to show a panicked militant telling a superior: “It was 100 per cent a passenger aircraft…there are civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.”
Separatist groups have since denied any involvement in the disaster, while Russian officials have continually dismissed allegations of soldiers or equipment being deployed in Ukraine.
In its own investigation, Russian Buk manufacturer Almaz Antey claimed the deadly missile was fired from Zaroschenskoye and that Ukrainian forces were stationed there at the time.
“We investigated this and have been able to establish that this was not the launch location, and moreover that it was controlled by pro-Russian rebels at the time,” Mr Paulissen said.
Ahead of the report's release on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Kremlin again claimed radar data showed rebels did not fire the missile that brought down MH17.
Dmitry Peskov said data obtained by the Russian military had already made clear that the rocket had not been fired from rebel territory, but from elsewhere.
“First-hand radar data identified all flying objects which could have been launched or in the air over the territory controlled by rebels at that moment,” he added.
“If there was a rocket it could only have been launched from a different area. You can't argue with it, it can't be discussed.”
The JIT said it had only received partial responses to its requests for information from Russian authorities and had not yet been sent primary radar data cited by officials at the Kremlin.
Comprising prosecutors from the countries with the most passengers on board the flight – the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia and Belgium – and Ukraine, the JIT previously said it would “ensure the independence of the investigation”.
Investigators have examined all human remains, personal belongings and wreckage from the Boeing 777, which broke up mid-air and spread debris over several miles.
The JIT has primary responsibility for establishing the case for prosecutions after the UN Security Council failed to adopt a resolution that would have established an international tribunal for prosecuting those responsible for downing MH17 at a meeting in July 2015.
Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Razak, said the countries involved would move swiftly to establish the course of action following Wednesday’s findings.
“We remain committed to bring those people responsible to justice,” he added.
The Ukrainian government is locked in a two-and-a-half year long conflict with separatist rebels controlling territory in the east, including the area where MH17 wreckage landed around Hrabove.
The insurgency started in the east following the toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.
A United Nations report recently warned of increasing civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, where hostilities between the government and rebel groups have been escalating as international attention wanes.
Amid in densely populated areas, civilians have been killed by shelling, mines and bombs, as well as an unknown number dying from a lack of food, water, medicine or healthcare.
Monitors have also recorded reports of human rights abuses including torture, ill-treatment and incommunicado detention, committed with “very limited accountability” and concern over fair trials.
More than 9,600 people have so far been killed and 22,400 injured in the conflict so far, with a volatile ceasefire restored on 1 September.
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