BUNNIK, Netherlands (Reuters) – Dutch prosecutors identified a Russian military unit on Thursday as the source of the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 296 people on board.
The airliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by a Russian-made “Buk” anti-aircraft missile on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists. There were no survivors. Two-thirds of those killed were Dutch.
The Chief Dutch Prosecutor, Fred Westerbeke said that the “Buk” or Russian anti-aircraft missile belonged to the 53rd brigade in the Russian army. But they do not know who was in charge of the Buk.
Investigators appealed to the public to come forward and help identify members of the crew who operated the missile and determine how high up the chain of command the order originated.
“The Russian Federation didn’t help us in providing us the information we brought out into the open today,” Westerbeke said. “They didn’t give us this information, although a Buk from their military forces was used.”
Russia repeated on Thursday that it had nothing to do with the incident. In a statement run on the TASS news agency, the Russian military denied that any Russian missile had ever crossed the border to Ukraine.
Prosecutors showed photos and videos of a truck convoy carrying the system as it crossed the border from Russia to Ukraine. It crossed back several days later with one missile missing. The vehicles had serial numbers and other markings that were unique to the 53rd brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk, they said.
In the interim update on their investigation, prosecutors said they had trimmed their list of possible suspects from more than a hundred to several dozen.
Westerbeke said investigators were not yet ready to identify individual suspects publicly or to issue indictments, but that when they do he expects cooperation, or a firm international political response.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cut short a trip to India to return in time for a cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss the latest findings in the inquiry.
A Joint Investigation Team, drawn from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine, is gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution in the downing of the plane.
Ukrainian Army General Vasyl Hrytsak, a member of the investigation team, told Reuters it would be crucial to pinpoint who issued the orders to move the missile system.
“The next crucially important step is to identify some members of the military in the 53rd brigade of the Armed Forces of (Russia)…who can directly say who was involved in the transfer or operation of the Buk.”
The Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report that the Boeing 777 was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile.
Eventual suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in the Netherlands after Russia used its veto to block a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to create an international tribunal to oversee criminal complaints stemming from the incident.
The Epoch Times, Alan Cheung contributed to this article.
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