Missile launcher that downed airliner in Ukraine was sent to Russia, investigators say

Missile launcher that downed airliner in Ukraine was sent to Russia, investigators say
Floral tributes left in July 2014 at Amsterdam Airport for victims aboard flight MH17.
By bne IntelliNews September 28, 2016

International prosecutors believe the Malaysian airliner downed over Ukraine two years ago with 298 dead was hit by a Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory held by pro-Moscow rebels, according to latest findings presented in the central Dutch city of Nieuwegein on September 28.

The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which has been gathering evidence for a possible criminal trial, said the attack was immediately covered up once the perpetrators realised they hit a civilian target.

"It can be concluded that flight MH17 has been shot down by a Buk [missile] that came from Russia and that it was transported back to Russia after firing," the JIT's Wilbert Paulissen said at a press conference in Nieuwegein, according to Bloomberg.

The Boeing 777-200ER jetliner was destroyed while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, resulting in the deaths of all 298 people aboard, most of them Dutch citizens.

Investigators of the JIT, which includes judicial professionals from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, have identified 100 potential suspects in the plane's destruction, Paulissen added.

Shortly before the outcome of the investigation was made public, Britain's Guardian newspaper cited unnamed diplomatic sources as saying the Buk missile launcher was located near the village of Snizhne in the eastern Donbas region, where Kyiv-controlled forces were engaged in heavy fighting with separatists in 2014.

Russia denies all claims of its involvement, either in supplying the weapon used or deploying any military units in support of the rebel forces. In a statement released shortly before the JIT's report was unveiled, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow that radar data showed the plane was not brought down by a rocket fired from territory held by the rebels.

"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," Reuters quoting Peskov sa saying. "The data are clear-cut ... there is no rocket. If there was a rocket, it could only have been fired from elsewhere."

In October 2015, the Dutch Safety Board released its findings about the incident, also concluding that MH17 was hit by a Russian-made Buk missile.

The Ukrainian government and Western countries say the airliner was likely hit in a case of mistaken identity with a Ukrainian air force plane, while the separatists and Moscow blame Ukrainian forces for the tragedy.

According to Guardian sources, the JIT has been working on the scenario that the Buk launcher came from Russia's 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade based in the city of Kursk, and was smuggled across the Russian-Ukrainian border in July 2014.

In 2015, the Netherlands proposed a United Nations-backed tribunal to prosecute the case, but Russia cast a veto in the UN Security Council to block the motion.

This month, the foreign ministers of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and the Netherlands "reiterated their strong support for the international and independent investigation" conducted by the JIT, officials in Kyiv said.