Dutch-led criminal investigators said Wednesday they have solid evidence that a Malaysian jet was shot down by a Buk missile that had been moved into eastern Ukraine from Russia.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Central Crime Investigation department of the Dutch National Police, said communications intercepts showed that pro-Moscow rebels had called for deployment of the mobile surface-to-air weapon, and reported its arrival in rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.
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From that and other evidence collected by the Joint Investigation Team, “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,” Paulissen told a news conference.
The conclusions — which include several videos explaining the details — were billed as results of a two-year Dutch-led criminal probe of the disaster that claimed 298 lives when the Boeing 777 came down in July 2014.
Investigators dismantled various Buk missiles and compared the components to evidence recovered from the crash site. They say the distinct shrapnel which surrounds a Buk warhead — some of which is shaped like a bow tie — matches fragments also found in the wreckage and in the bodies of the crew.
One of those particles also shows traces of glass on the surface, matching the type of glass used in cockpits of Boeing 777s.
“This means that the particle penetrated the aircraft from the outside, right through the cockpit window,” the team said in one of its videos.
Russia denies allegations
A separate investigation by Dutch safety officials last year concluded that the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight was downed by a Buk missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels.
Dutch police spokesman Thomas Aling said the joint investigation findings differ in that they are designed to be solid enough to be used as evidence in a criminal trial. Where and when a trial might take place is still to be determined, Aling said.
Russia has consistently denied allegations that pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine were responsible. On Monday, the Russian military said it has new radio-location data that show the missile that downed the Boeing 777 did not originate from rebel-controlled territory, and said it would turn the data over to investigators.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that assertion on Wednesday ahead of the Dutch report.
“If there was a rocket it could only have been launched from a different area,” he told reporters, referring to Russian radar data. “You can’t argue with it, it can’t be discussed.”
In the Joint Investigation Team, Dutch police and judicial officials have been working with counterparts from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, seeking to gather the best possible evidence for use in prosecution of the perpetrators.
They have faced extraordinary challenges: the crime scene in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk, where the plane crashed on July 17, 2014, killing all aboard, was located in an active war zone, and during the days following the crash pro-Kremlin militants limited access to the site.
Eleven containers crammed with debris from the jetliner were ultimately brought to the Netherlands. A research team took soil samples in eastern Ukraine and established the location of cellphone towers and the layout of the local telephone network.
Forensic samples were taken from passengers’ and crew members’ bodies and luggage, and satellite data and communications intercepts were scrutinized. The team also appealed for information from witnesses who may have seen the missile launch.
About two-thirds of the passengers aboard MH17 were Dutch nationals; the crew members were Malaysians. Malaysia proposed setting up an international tribunal to try those responsible for the plane’s destruction, but Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution in favor of a tribunal.
A lone Canadian was on board: Andrei Anghel, 24 of Ajax, Ont.