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
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before