Investigation affirms a Russian missile downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine in 2014. Investigators say the plane was destroyed by Russia-backed rebels using a Russian missile launcher. Moscow has extensively denied these claims.

Mstyslav Chernov/AP/File
People stand with Orthodox crosses and icons as they attend a memorial service at the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, July 17, 2015.

An ongoing Dutch investigation has determined that Russia was involved in the 2014 destruction of a Malaysia Airlines plane.

Flight MH17 was shot down en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The prosecutors informed the families of the victims of their findings before a news conference Wednesday. The plane's destruction and alleged Russian cover-up exacerbated tensions over Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Dutch investigators have known for at least a year that the Malaysian commercial aircraft was brought down by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile. The makers of the missile, however, claimed that pro-Russia Ukrainian rebels had not been involved in the attack and contested the team's findings that the missile had launched from Snizhne, a Ukrainian village under rebel control.

The latest announcements from the Dutch team confirms much of these initial findings.

According to the investigators, the Buk trailer from which the missile was launched had been transported to Ukraine from Russia. After the plane was shot down, the launcher was immediately returned. The investigators said that "many witnesses" had seen the transportation of the missile launcher, and that some of its movements had even been caught on video, according to the BBC. Ukrainian separatist rebels denied the claim, saying they never had such defense systems, much less people who were trained to use them. According to The New York Times, however, investigators claimed that they had spoken to a separatist who confirmed part of the route the missile launcher took in its return to Russia.

The investigators said they had about 100 potential suspects in the case that they intend to question.

Russia has vociferously maintained that it was not involved in the incident, even going so far as to accuse the Ukrainian government of shooting down the plane on Monday, according to The Washington Post. Russia's lack of cooperation will make any prosecution attempt difficult, kicking off a long, multi-national legal battle at the center of tensions between Russia and the West, especially since Russia vetoed the creation of a UN-based international tribunal in 2015.

Prosecutors detailed evidence of their claims of Russian involvement in the attack and the subsequent cover-up based on test detonations and 3,500 intercepted phone conversations but said they were holding back some details as the investigation goes forward, according to The Independent.

It is still unclear why the plane was shot down. The civilian plane's flight path took it through the height of fighting between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels. There are some indications that the rebels targeted the plane by accident, thinking that the Malaysia flight was a military plane engaging in an airstrike, according to the Telegraph, but investigators were reluctant to talk about motive without further investigation.

Despite the work ahead, Silene Fredriksz, whose son was killed on the Malaysian flight, says that the struggle to determine what happened will be worth the effort.

"This is an important step," Fredriksz told Reuters. "As a family we are impatient. We want to know what happened, how it happened and why. We want those responsible to face justice."

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