Investigators say the missile that hit the plane was fired from territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels
Prosecutors said the missile was brought into Ukraine from Russia. AFP photo
International prosecutors investigating the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 say the missile that hit the plane was fired from territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels.
They said the missile launcher was brought into Ukraine from Russia and later returned there.
All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 died when it broke apart in midair flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Prosecutors said they were not accusing Russia of involvement.
They said there were 100 people “linked to the crash or the transport of the Buk” missile, but they are yet to determine who could be held criminally responsible.
There is a need to establish who gave the order to move the missile launcher into eastern Ukraine, and where the order for it to be fired came from, investigators said.
BUK missiles on their launcher
Russia has disputed claims that the missile was fired by rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) consists of prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine.
They have narrowed the missile launch site down to a specific field near the village of Pervomaiskyi.
“Based on the criminal investigation, we have concluded that flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile of the series 9M83 that came from the territory of the Russian Federation,” chief Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen said.
The missile launcher was later taken back to Russia, he said.
An inquiry by the Dutch Safety Board last year found that a Russian-made Buk missile hit the plane but did not say where it was fired from.
The JIT investigation’s findings are meant to prepare the ground for a criminal trial but suspects will not be named.
Prosecutors played recordings from intercepted phone calls during their news conference.
They said witnesses reported seeing the missile launcher move from Russia into Ukraine and presented pictures and videos.
The launch site was pinpointed by “many witnesses”, prosecutors said.
Relatives were briefed before the JIT released their preliminary findings.
“They told us how the Buk was transported [and] how they came to that evidence from phone taps, photo, film material, video,” Robby Oehler, whose niece was killed in the crash, told the BBC.
Separatist rebels have denied they were involved. Reuters photo
“We never had such air defence systems, nor the people who could operate them,” Eduard Basurin, military deputy operational commander at the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, told the Interfax news agency.
“Therefore we could not have shot down the Boeing [flight MH17].”
Earlier this week, Russia said it had radar data showing that the missile was not fired from rebel-held territory.
The JIT does not yet have access to that data, prosecutors said.
An excellent report is also at The Independent:
By Roland Oliphant and 28 SEPTEMBER 2016 • 1:14PM
The Buk missile that shot down Malaysian airlines flight MH17 was transported into east Ukraine from Russia, prosecutors have told relatives of the victims at a special briefing in the Netherlands.
The finding raises questions about the involvement of the Russian armed forces, the Kremlin, and Vladimir Putin himself in the disaster that saw 298 civilians killed. Russia has consistently denied any involvement.
Detectives from the Dutch-led international criminal investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 will reveal their first conclusions at a press conference shortly, in findings that are widely expected to implicate Russian-backed separatists and possibly the Russian Federation.
All 298 passengers and crew on the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpa flight were killed when their Boeing 777-300 was blown up by a surface to air missile over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
MH17 relatives comforted their loved ones didn’t sufferPlay!01:45
The five-nation Joint Investigation Team, which includes detectives from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, is expected to reveal the exact type of weapon and the precise spot from which it was fired this afternoon.
The announcement is expected to lay to rest debate about which side of the war in eastern Ukraine fired the missile, opening the way to identification and prosecution of the perpetrators and their chain of command.
Several independent investigations, including by this newspaper, have suggested the rocket was fired from a wheat field south of the town of Snizhne, about 10 miles southeast of the area where MH17’s wreckage crashed to earth.
Return to the site where MH17 was shot downPlay!01:00
If detectives confirm the missile was fired from near Snizhe it would implicate the Russian-backed separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, who controlled the area, and by extension the Russian military, which provided considerable support to the rebels in their fight with the Ukrainian armed forces throughout the summer of 2014.
Such a finding would raise questions about the role of the Kremlin and specific Russian army units in the disaster and would reignite a diplomatic rupture between Moscow and the West.
The British-based investigative journalism website Bellingcat has submitted evidence to the investigation that it says implicates Russia’s 53rd Air Defence Brigade.
MH17 Ukraine disaster: Dutch report blames missilePlay!01:17
A law suit filed on behalf of 33 relatives at the European Court of Human Rights in May names Vladimir Putin as the man responsible based on similar evidence.
Russia denies sending troops into east Ukraine and says it had nothing to do with the MH17 disaster. The state-controlled Russian company that builds the kind of missile believed to have been used has suggested an alternative launch location further west.
The Russian ministry of defence on Monday released radar data that it claimed showed no missile flew towards MH17 from the Snizhne direction.
MH17 aircraft reconstructed as part of Dutch investigation into disasterPlay!00:34
The Dutch Safety Board, which conducted an air-accident enquiry into the causes of the crash, said in October 2015 that the aircraft was shot down by an SA-11 Buk anti-aircraft missile from somewhere south of Snizhne.
Both Ukraine and Russia operate Buk systems, and the two countries have repeatedly accused one another of culpability for the crash.
Today’s announcement follows more than two years of witness interviews and forensic work on a crime scene that covers more than 50 square kilometers of an active war zone.
Artistic description of the event:
Was it an accident?
The short answer from the prosecutors is ‘we don’t know.’
The simplest explanation seems to be that the downing of MH17 was a terrible blunder – that Russian separatists requested powerful anti-aircraft weapons to respond to Ukrainian airstrikes, but mistakenly targeted a civilian airliner.
Until witnesses have been interviewed, however, prosecutors say they are reluctant to talk about motive.
No specific charges or court yet identified
‘Opting for the best kind of prosecution would be premature at this time,’ Dutch prosecutors say.
That sidesteps a major issue. Since Russia vetoed the creation of an international tribunal at the United Nations in July 2015, it has been unclear what kind of court could eventually hear a trial based on the investigation’s evidence.
Investigators so far have not revealed precisely what kind of charges could be brought.
Almaz Antey evidence ‘only handed over two weeks ago’
The investigators say tests performed by Almaz Antey, the Russian company that builds Buk missiles were only handed over ‘about two weeks ago.’
Almaz Antey has said its tests suggest an alternative launch site, several miles to the west of the one identified by prosecutors today.
However, investigators say other material would be unlikely to lead them to another conclusion because the ‘overwhelming weight’ of evidence is consistent.
Russian radar images ‘not handed over’
New images released by the Russian ministry of defence on Monday have not been handed over to the investigation, writes Senay Boztas.
Russian officials said radar images showed no missile was fired at MH17 from the Snizhe area.
“They say the evidence shows MH17 wasn’t visible and must have come from another direction but this is inconclusive. The absence of evidence is not proof it wasn’t there. We have no doubt we have the correct position,” investigators say.
‘More than 100 persons of interest’
The JIT says 100 people have been linked to the shooting and identified but until they establish chain of command they cannot narrow this down. They appeal to insider witnesses to come forward and take advantage of potential immunity under Ukrainian law.
As expected they have avoided saying explicitly whether Russian military personnel were involved. That is a question that will have to be answered in due course – and carries major questions about the Kremlin, and Vladimir Putin’s responsibility.
“We are not making any statement about the involvement of the Russian Federation or people from the Russian federation,” prosecutors say.
The JIT investigation has been extended at least until 2018.
Buk was returned to Russia after launch
Detectives say the missile launcher was subsequently returned to Russia.
That fits with evidence already in the public domain, including that collated by Bellingcat, the British-based citizen journalism network.
But intriguingly, the detectives say they also have other witnesses – including a rebel fighter who was involved in the convoy.
More on the launch site
The JIT announces it knows the exact location of the missile launch from authenticated videos and photographs, and witness interviews.
They tracked its path from Russian Federation territory to the launchsite on farmland, 6km south of the village of Snizhne. It was carried in a convoy on a white Volvo trusk, with an escort and officers in uniform. At Snizhne it was unloaded and travelled alone.
They presented this evidence with videos, original evidence, and evidence from telephone conversations between fighters.
They mention a piece of land scorched 30m by 30m that was discovered by Telegraph journalists.
“A journalist spoke to residents who said the field had been on fire. The investigation team, who did not have access to this after the crash, also interviewed witnesses.”
You can read our original report here.
Tags: Australia, Belgium, Boeing 777-300, Buk missile, Donetsk People's Republic, Dutch Safety Board, Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team, Flight MH17, JIT, JIT investigation, July 17 2014, Malaysia, Malaysian Airlines, MH17, netherlands, Putin, Russia, Russian-backed rebels, Ukraine