An international team of prosecutors investigating the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014 released its findings on 28 September, stating that the missile, which downed the plane “came from Russia.”
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which has been investigating the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine and which includes prosecutors from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, disclosed Wednesday that the Buk missile that hit the plane was transported from Russia. According to chief Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen, “based on the criminal investigation, we have concluded that flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile of the series 9M83 that came from the territory of the Russian Federation.” He added that the missile launcher, which fired one missile from the village of Pervomaysk, was later taken back to Russia. During a news conference, prosecutors played recordings from intercepted phone calls. They further stated that witnesses reported seeing the missile launcher move from Russia into Ukraine and presented pictures and videos, adding that the launch site was pinpointed by “many witnesses.” Prosecutors noted however that it was not clear whether an order had been given for fighters to launch the missile or whether they had acted independently. The investigative team has identified 100 people who were described as being of interest to them however they have not yet formally identified individual suspects.
An earlier inquiry by the Dutch Safety Board concluded that a Russian-made Buk missile had hit the plane. The Safety Board (DSB) report disclosed in October 2015 that the missile was fired from a 320 square kilometre area southeast of where the plane came down, with the head of the DSB disclosing that the area was under rebel control.
Pro-Russian rebels have been blamed by Ukraine and the West for shooting down the plane. At the time of the incident, Ukrainian government forces were involved in heavy fighting with pro-Russian separatists. Wednesday’s findings will challenge Moscow’s suggestion that the plane was brought by the Ukrainian military. In the past, Russia has denied any involvement, including allegations that the Buk missile launcher had come from Russian territory. Repeating those details on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “first-hand radar data identified all flying objects, which could have been launched or were in the air over the territory controlled by rebels at the moment,” adding that “the data are clear-cut…there is no rocket. If there was a rocket, it could only have been fired from elsewhere.” Investigators have noted that they did not have access to the new radar images on which Moscow was basing its latest statements. Separatist rebels have also denied their involvement. Eduard Basurin, military deputy operational commander at the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, told Interfax news agency, “we never had such air defense systems, not the people who could operate them…Therefore we could not have shot down the Boeing (flight MH17).”
After the attack, the European Union (EU) and the United States extended sanctions on Russia that had been initially introduced after the Ukraine conflict began. Earlier this week, Russia produced radar images, which it argued depicted that the plane could not have come from rebel-held areas. Critics however have pointed out that Russian officials have given three versions of events since the plane was shot down over two years ago.
All 298 people on board the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 died when the plane broke apart in mid-air while it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Most of those on board were Dutch citizens.
Al-Qaeda’s north African branch has released a video depicting seven kidnapped Westerners. The video was received by Mauritanian news agency ANI, which indicates that all the captives seemed to be in good health. France’s Foreign Ministry has announced that the hostage video seems to be “credible.”
The newly released video depicts seven hostages, including four Frenchmen and a Dutchman, who were kidnapped from a uranium compound in northern Niger exactly three years ago; along with a Swede and a South African who were abducted from a hostel in Timbuktu in northern Mali November 2011 in an attack that left a German man dead. In the video, which was released to Mauritanian news agency ANI, Frenchman Daniel Larribe, 61, introduces himself as the head of the French group, stating that he was kidnapped by militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). According to ANI, Mr. Larribe states that he is “…in good health but threatened with death,” adding that he holds the French authorities responsible for his fate. The video also includes statements from the other French hostages, including Pierre Legrand, Theirry Dol and Marc Feret as well as South African Stephen Malcolm, Dutchman Sjaak Rijke and Swede Johna Gustafsson. It also shows the French hostages reportedly urging the French administration, as well as their family members, to work for their release. At the time of their kidnapping, the four Frenchmen were mostly working for French public nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom. They were kidnapped in Arlit, northern Niger, on 16 September 2010. At the time, Daniel’s wife, Francoise Larribe, was also captured however she was released in 2011.
Although it remains unclear when the video was made, officials from ANI have indicated that the messages recorded by the French hostages were made in June of this year. Furthermore, this is the first video that is said to depict the men since France launched an intervention in Mali in January after al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened to overrun the capital Bamako.
According French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, “based on an initial analysis, the video seems credible to us and provides new proof of life of the four French hostages kidnaped in Arlit (northern Niger) on September 16, 2010,” adding that the footage was being authenticated.
AQIM is currently believed to be holding eight European hostages, including five French nationals. According to French prosecutors, one of the French hostages, Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2011 and found dead earlier this year, was executed with a shot to the head. Officials in France believe that his killing was in retaliation to France’s intervention in Mali. A fifth hostage, Serge Lazarevic, was kidnapped along with Mr. Verdon from their hotel in Hombori on the night of 24 November 2011. Shortly after their kidnapping, the families of the two men insisted that they were not mercenaries or secret service agents. These comments were in response to threats made by AQIM militants stating that the two hostages would be killed as they were French spies.
While the newly released video depicts the pleas of the French hostages for their release, it is highly unlikely that the French government will get involved, and that their plight will be publicly discussed. Although in July of this year French President Francois Hollande announced that France was “doing everything” to bring the hostages back, he indicated that officials would “…not talk so as not to complicate a situation which is bad enough.”