MH17 investigators find 'possible' BUK missile fragments
Investigators probing the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 said Tuesday they had identified possible Russian-made BUK missile fragments from eastern Ukraine, where the plane crashed.
International and Dutch investigators are probing "several parts, possibly originating from a BUK surface-air-missile system," said a joint statement from prosecutors and the Dutch Safety Board (OVV).
"These parts have been secured during a previous recovery-mission in eastern Ukraine and are in possession of the criminal investigation team and the Dutch Safety Board," it said.
Asked whether the parts were found at the crash site, Dutch public prosecutor spokesman Wim de Bruin told AFP he could not be more specific than "in eastern Ukraine".
Flight MH17 was shot down on July 17 last year, killing all 298 people on board during heavy fighting between Kiev's armed forces and pro-Russian separatists.
Ukraine and many in the West have accused pro-Russian rebels of shooting down the plane, saying they may have used a BUK missile supplied by Russia.
Russia and the rebels deny any responsibility and point the finger at Ukraine's military.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) carrying out the criminal probe into the crash consists of the Netherlands, Ukraine, Australia, Malaysia and Belgium.
International air investigators, comprising representatives from the Netherlands, Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, Britain, the United States and Russia are currently meeting in The Hague to discuss a draft OVV report into what caused the crash.
- 'Realistic scenario' -
The statement from the OVV and JIT said the fragments being investigated "can possibly provide more information about who was involved in the crash of MH17.
"For that reason the JIT further investigates the origin of these parts. The JIT will internationally enlist the help of experts, among others forensic specialists and weapon-experts," it said.
Investigators stressed that "at present the conclusion cannot be drawn that there is a causal connection between the discovered parts and the crash of flight MH17."
Dennis Schouten, deputy head of the association of MH17 victims' relatives, told AFP that the announcement was "in line with expectations."
"This was already one of the most realistic scenarios," he said.
Dutch authorities completed recovery of debris and bodies from the crash in April this year, having been hindered by ongoing fighting.
All but two of the dead have so far been identified using DNA samples, dental records and personal effects.
- Soil samples -
Dutch experts in June returned to war-ravaged eastern Ukraine and took soil samples from a field from where a surface-to-air missile may have been fired, possibly bringing down MH17.
Both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries have BUK missiles in their arsenal, and the system's Russian manufacturer said in June that based on publicly available photographs of the wreckage the plane was likely shot down by one of its missiles.
The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was blown out of the sky, killing all on board.
Two-thirds of the victims were Dutch, many of them children starting their summer holidays.
Russia last month vetoed a bid at the United Nations Security Council to set up an international tribunal to try those behind the shooting down.
Countries involved in that bid are now looking at other means to carry out a prosecution, although no suspects have yet been publicly identified or detained.
The OVV is to release its final report into what, but not who, downed the aircraft in October.
Air investigators are also probing the decision making process that allowed civilian airliners to fly over a war zone where several Ukrainian military aircraft had previously been shot down by separatists at high altitude.
© 2015 AFP