Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Evidence mounting of pro-Russian link to attack

Social media offering vital clues into responsibility for outrage

While fighting raged in the region where flight MH17 was downed, a separate battle was being fought to build a case against pro-Russian separatists thought to be responsible for the plane’s destruction.

From recordings of tapped phone calls between panicking rebel leaders to footage posted on social media of a Russian-built Buk-M1 missile launcher close to the scene of the crash, the evidence is wide-ranging.

Some of it, such as transcripts of mobile phone conversations between separatist leaders, has been partially verified by the US. Other elements, including efforts to pinpoint the location of the launcher, are the subject of detective work by both intelligence professionals and bloggers alike.

Unlike the pro-Western government in Kiev, Washington has been slow to point the finger directly at Moscow. But the case against the separatists and their Russian backers becomes increasingly compelling.

The tape recordings

Within hours of the crash, the Ukrainian security service – SBU – posted recordings claimed to have been of conversations between separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine in the minutes after the launch of an SA-11 missile from a Buk-M1 at 4.20pm on 17 July.

Rebel forces had been increasingly successful in shooting down Ukrainian government aircraft in the preceding weeks and initially claimed to have downed an Antonov AN-26 transport plane. In one recording, Igor Bezler, the supposed leader of the team operating the Buk-M1 launcher thought to be responsible for the attack, tells a Russian intelligence officer: “The group of the Miner has just shot down a plane.”

In another, a “Cossack” commander, Nikolai Kozitsyn, whose unit has been blamed for firing the missile, responds to being told a Malaysia Airlines plane has been destroyed.

He said: “That means they were carrying spies. They shouldn’t be [expletive] flying. There is a war going on.”

The SBU has built up an extensive archive of intercepted recordings of untested reliability. But Washington has described the material as “authentic”, after comparing the voices to confirmed recordings of separatists.

Photographs and videos of Buk-M1 launcher

Social media has played a central role in disseminating and corroborating evidence of the presence of at least one Buk-M1 launcher in the vicinity of the disaster. At least three videos and photographs, including footage shot by a Western journalist, show the tracked launcher being carried by a lorry between Snizhne and Torez, to the south of the crash zone, prior to the disaster, early in the afternoon of 17 July.

Further footage appears to show the same lorry driving through Snizhne after the attack towards the Russian border, possibly with only three of its four missiles on board.

The location of these images has been corroborated by internet-based investigators, notably American Aric Toler and British blogger Brown Moses, using open-source material ranging from Google Maps to YouTube videos shot by a motorist driving in Torez.

Deleted social media boasts

Even as the plume of dark smoke rose over the Grabovo village crash site of MH17, rebel commanders wasted no time in publicising what they said was another victory over Ukrainian air power.

VK, a popular Russian-language social networking site, carried a purported post by Igor Strelkov, the so-called “defence minister” of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. It said: “We just downed an AN-26 near Torez. And here is a video confirming that a ‘bird fell’.”

Tellingly, the post was removed shortly after it became apparent that a civilian airliner had been destroyed.

The missile flare and blast pattern

Satellite imagery shows the smoke from the missile fired at MH17 rising from rebel-held territory between Torez and Snizhne, while pictures taken from the ground show the same plume rising vertically. Military experts suggest that the trajectory of the trail helps discount a launch from further away by Ukrainian government forces.

Washington said its analysis of satellite pictures shows the missile was an SA-11 missile fired from a Buk-M1 launcher in separatist territory.

The crash site

Footage has emerged which appears to show emergency workers carrying the black box flight recorders, whose whereabouts remained uncertain last night. Cranes have been seen shifting and removing wreckage. Is this is the behaviour of individuals determined to preserve a crash scene or to destroy vital evidence?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US