Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called for justice after an international criminal investigation team concluded Wednesday that an antiaircraft missile transported from Russia shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine two years ago.
Netherlands chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, who heads a joint investigation team (JIT), said the probe had ruled out all other possible explanations for the crash of MH17, BenarNews sister entity Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. The airliner was shot down on July 17, 2014, over Ukrainian airspace while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.
“Based on the findings, Malaysia wants firm action to be taken. We have promised that those who were responsible for the downing of the aircraft will be brought to justice,” Najib told Malaysian media, according to state news agency Bernama.
“We owe it to the families. The families want justice. So we will pursue this,” Najib said.
Malaysia would call for a meeting with the other countries that lost their citizens, namely the Netherlands and Australia, the prime minister added.
Relatives of Malaysian victims of the disaster welcomed the report.
For more than two years, the victims’ family members have wondered who was responsible for the downing of the Boeing 777, said Noorlin Mohd Noor, the sister of passenger Norahimah Mohd Noor.
“If it is true as revealed, another mystery now needs to be unlocked – why MH17 was shot down?” Noorlin told BenarNews.
The latest developments give relatives of MH17 victims hope that justice can be served, said Munirah Mustafa, whose sister, Mastura, was a passenger on the doomed flight.
"At last, we have answers that we sought for so long," she told BenarNews. "I hope they take appropriate action and the government of Malaysia does not forget the fate of victims' family members."
Criminal investigation goes on
Speaking at a press conference in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands, Westerbeke said the JIT could not reveal all of its findings for fear of hampering its criminal investigations.
He said the investigation had identified about 100 people who are being looked at further. Westerbeke stressed that “a clear impression of the chain of command” must be established before it could be determined if they were culpable, reported Voice of America (VOA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
Investigators determined that a Russian surface-to-air Buk missile system was brought into Ukraine shortly before the tragedy, and then smuggled back to Russia shortly afterward.
Australian Assistant Police Commissioner Ian McCartney (from left), Malaysian Public Prosecutor Mohamad Hanafia bin Zakaria, Malaysian Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar and Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke present preliminary results of the MH17 investigation. [AFP]
The JIT showed a 10-minute animation interlaced with photographs and videos taken in July 2014 that showed the Buk system being brought into Ukraine and arriving near the town of Snizhne, RFE/RL reported. It also presented audio and photographic evidence that a missile was launched and the same Buk unit, with only three missiles, was traced moving by night through the Ukrainian city of Luhansk and into Russia.
The JIT includes representatives of the countries most affected by the tragedy – Malaysia, the Netherlands, Australia and Belgium working in cooperation with Ukraine to gather evidence that could be used in criminal prosecutions in any of those countries.
Dutch police said the latest findings along with those from an earlier investigation could be solid enough to be used in a criminal trial, VOA reported. Prosecutors cannot file charges at this time because international investigators have not agreed in which court to hold a trial.
Previously, the Dutch Safety Board concluded that MH17 was downed by a Buk missile fired from rebel-controlled territory in Ukraine.
Russia: No radar data
Reacting to JIT’s interim report, Russian officials on Wednesday said radar data proved that no rocket was fired from within territory held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, VOA reported.
On a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian radar had identified all flying objects over the rebel territory.
“The data are clear-cut … there is no rocket,” he said. “If there was a rocket, it could only have been fired from elsewhere.”
In July 2015, Russia used its U.N. Security Council veto to block a resolution aimed at creating an international MH17 tribunal, saying that doing so would be “counterproductive.”
A JIT official said Russia had not provided its radar data to its investigators and it had not been evaluated. Westerbeke said the JIT had made several requests for information from the Russian government during its two-year investigation and had received “partial answers to some of them.”
The JIT has been working with the British-based open-source research group Bellingcat, which has used social media posts to track the movement of a Buk missile unit from near the Russian city of Kursk to the Ukrainian village of Snizhne in the days before the MH17 downing and to track the same units return to Russia immediately afterward.
“Obviously, the Russians are doing everything they can to undermine this press conference,” Bellingcat founder and director Eliot Higgins told RFE/RL on Wednesday. “They released this radar data. You know, it was ridiculous really because they managed to prove that their previous press conference was a lie.
“In the first press conference, [the Russians] said there was a jet three to five km (1.8 to 3.1 miles) away, and in the recent one they said there was nothing anyway near it. So, you know, the Russians are going to try very hard to not to admit responsibility for this.”
A. Ariffin in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.