MH17 Shot Down By Buk Missile Brought In From Russia, Investigators Say
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed over eastern Ukraine by a Buk missile brought in from Russia and fired from a village under the control of pro-Russian separatists, a team of international prosecutors said Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference in the Dutch city of Nieuwegein, Wilbert Paulissen, the head of the Dutch National Detective Force, said there was conclusive evidence that a Russian-made Buk 9M38 missile downed the passenger flight on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
After the missile launch, the Buk was returned to Russian territory the next day, he said.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the findings pointed to the “direct involvement” of Russia, and said an investigation was ongoing into specific suspects and their “place in the chain of command” in order to pursue a criminal case.
Russia, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the downing of the plane, rejected the report.
“The findings of the Dutch prosecutor’s office confirmed that the investigation was biased and politically motivated,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a press conference on Wednesday.
On Monday, Russia’s defense ministry released radar data which it claimed showed that if the plane was shot down, it was done so by Ukrainian forces.
Prosecutor: 100 people linked
Paulissen made the comments at the release of a report by the Joint Investigation Team, a Dutch-led group of prosecutors gathering evidence for a potential criminal trial into the matter.
That evidence included intercepted phone calls, witness accounts and material on social media that helped establish the missile system’s route in a convoy into Ukraine, investigators said. Prosecutors presented a computer-generated animation showing the Buk’s alleged path into the country.
Paulissen said the missile was fired from farmland near the village of Pervomaysk which was under the control of pro-Russian rebels at the time — a conclusion supported by satellite data from the United States and the European Space Agency.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said there were about 100 people linked “in one way or another” to the transportation and firing of the Buk, but they were yet to formally identify individual suspects.
He said prosecutors were still seeking a clearer picture around the chain of command: “Who ordered to transport the Buk, who ordered the MH17 to be shot down, if the crew took their own decisions, or were they operating on instructions from above?”
They were seeking more information on the chain of command that led to the firing of the missile, but believed there was a realistic chance that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
Prosecutors said they were not about to make any statement about the involvement of Russia, or Russians, in the shootdown.
Family members grateful
The findings are the first released by the group, comprised of prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, in its criminal investigation into the downing of Flight MH17. Nearly 200 of those on board were Dutch citizens.
Family members of the victims were briefed ahead of the public release of the report.
Dennis Schouten, whose brother-in-law and brother-in-law’s girlfriend were killed, said he was grateful to the JIT for having put “some of the conspiracies” around the flight to rest.
“We can be sure it was a Buk installation that has brought down MH17,” he said.
Schouten said that the findings meant that Russia had “to do some explaining.”
“We can surely say they have a part in this story,” he said.
Piet Ploeg, a relative of another MH17 victim, said: “there was evidence before that Russia was involved, but now [we] are sure.”
Last year, a civilian investigation conducted by the Dutch Safety Board concluded that the Boeing aircraft was shot down by a Russian-made Buk missile. But the investigation was not required to assign blame for the missile strike, and did not say who was responsible.
In July, Malaysia Airlines settled damages with the families of most of the passengers killed on Flight MH17, an attorney representing some of the families confirmed.
The airline said Wednesday it was monitoring the progress of the JIT’s criminal investigation closely.
“We are ensuring that all those affected by this tragic incident are kept fully informed. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are to the families and friends of the passengers and crew onboard Flight MH17.”