Updated at 4:35 p.m. ET on 2015-10-13
A Russian-made missile shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine in July 2014, Dutch investigators said in a final report Tuesday, prompting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to call for immediate action in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
This is the first time that investigators have publically confirmed that a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missile was used to bring down the airliner, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
“We now know that the plane was hit by a Russian-made BUK missile fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine,” Najib said in a statement issued after the release of the Dutch report.
“While this has long been speculated about, the fact that these chain of events have now been proven conclusively by the Dutch Safety Board mean that we must move forward towards ensuring that those responsible are held accountable for this murderous act,” he added.
The 279-page report from the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) did not blame a single party for the crash of the Boeing 777 near the Ukrainian village of Hrabove.
A warhead from the missile exploded near the front of the jumbo jet, killing three members of the plane’s crew instantly and penetrating the fuselage, causing the airliner to break up in mid-air, DSB officials said.
Fifteen months have passed since Flight MH17 was shot down, “but our commitment to bringing the perpetrators to justice remains as strong as it was on that fateful day,” Najib said.
Forty-three Malaysians and 13 Indonesians were among those killed in the downing of MH17 as it overflew eastern Ukraine, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. Most of the passengers were Dutch citizens, according to Malaysia Airlines (MAS).
Suspicion on who fired the missile has largely fallen on Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels or Russian troops operating in the war zone, but Russia has rejected that theory, saying the rocket was launched by Ukrainian government forces.
In July 2015, Malaysia and four other countries – the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine – drafted a United Nations resolution calling for an international tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators. But Russia used its veto to scuttle the move in a U.N. Security Council vote.
The five countries behind the resolution have now banded into a Joint Investigation Team and are conducting a criminal probe into the crash, which is separate from the investigation carried out by the Dutch Safety Board, the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation said Tuesday.
The Russian government, meanwhile, questioned the integrity of the Dutch findings.
"There remain serious doubts whether the genuine goal of an investigation conducted in the Netherlands is the establishment of true reasons behind the catastrophe and not a justification of accusations that have been put forward in advance," Agence France-Presse quoted Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.
"Russia experts never got access to all the materials of the investigation," she said, adding they would study the report closely.
In Penang, the home state of two crewmembers aboard the doomed plane, relatives demanded justice for their loved ones.
"I have read the report on the internet but it is not conclusive on who was responsible for the incident. Some people must be held responsible. Any country must be held responsible," Jijar Singh Sandhu, father of Steward Sanjid Singh Sandhu, told reporters at his home in Bukit Mertajam on Tuesday evening.
"At the moment we still do not know for sure who the culprits are. We need to know who they are so that we can sue them,” he added. “If they say it's the Russians, we can sue the Russians. If the Ukrainians are responsible, we can engage a lawyer to sue Ukraine.”
All 15 members of the crew were Malaysians.
George Town resident Sharom Bee Md. Ibrahim lost her daughter, Stewardess Nur Shazana Binti Mohamed Salleh, in the crash.
“We want concrete answers on who was responsible for the missile attack,” she told reporters at her home, her voice quivering.
“Was it a pure accident since there were dozens of other airliners passing by the airspace during the fateful day, or was the MAS aircraft targeted instead?”
The report also raises questions about the safety of airliners flying above conflict zones, even at cruising altitudes high above ground. On the day of the crash, as many as 160 commercial flights were routed through the airspace above eastern Ukraine.
“The aviation parties involved did not adequately recognize the risks of the armed conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine to overflying civil aviation,” the DSB report said.
“It is clear that Ukraine already had sufficient reason to close the airspace over the eastern part of Ukraine as a precaution before 17 July 2014.”
Najib also touched on this point.
“Of the 160 flights that were on MH17's general route that day, not one was advised by the relevant authorities against any specific threat,” he said.
Malaysia Airlines, which had lost another airliner, Flight MH370, under mysterious circumstances just four months before the crash of MH17, also issued a statement.
“MAS has worked very closely with the Dutch authorities and given full cooperation to the investigative team. We welcome the publication of the report and hope that it will give clarity to the affected families of the tragic incident,” the airline said.
“MAS would like to assure all [next of kin] that we shall continue to co-operate with the authorities on all matters pertaining to the loss of flight MH17 and our support to the families will remain until all issues are completed,” MAS added.