A Russian BUK Anti-Aircraft Missile Shot Down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 – Official Investigation

September 28, 2016

Official Investigation Concludes Missile That Shot Down Malaysian Airlines MH17 Came From Russia

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) conducting the official investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, has announced that they can confirm the airliner was struck by a Russian missile fired from separatist-held territory. All 298 people on board were killed.

JIT: Flight MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile from a farmland near Pervomaiskyi

All forensic examinations, witness statements, telecom information, satellite images, radar data, findings by experts and other supporting evidence point to an attack by a ground based air defence system. In addition, the JIT has also investigated other alternative scenarios. Of these alternative scenarios, an accident and evidence for a terrorist attack from inside the aircraft have been ruled out.

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Sep 28, 2016 20:29 (GMT)

The BBC reports:

“Based on the criminal investigation, we have concluded that flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile of the series 9M83 [sic – the missile is an 9m38 – Interpreter] that came from the territory of the Russian Federation,” chief Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen said.

The missile launcher was later taken back to Russia, he said.

This confirms what we at The Interpreter and numerous other journalists covering the story established in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

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UPDATED Evidence Review: Who Shot Down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17?

This was originally posted on July 25th at 15:58 GMT and has been updated on July 31 and on September 15th. With all of the developments, debates, new evidence and new disinformation, let's take a look at what we know and don't know about the theory that a Buk missile system shot down Malaysian Flight MH17.

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Sep 28, 2016 11:09 (GMT)

It also confirms our follow-up investigation which was finished a year after MH17 was shot down.

The JIT today presented a selection of their evidence, noting that some elements have been withheld from public release so as to preserve an upcoming criminal prosecution.

Fred Westerbeke, the chief investigator from the Dutch National Prosecutor’s Office, said that 100-200 investigators have been worked daily on the case, working with the wreckage of of the Boeing 777 airliner and “half a million” videos and photographs, over 200 witness interviews and more than 150,000 intercepted telephone conversations.

“The evidence must stand before court, of course ultimately the court will render the final judgement. In the meantime, as we have gathered so much evidence that, as we announced earlier, we can answer the question as to which weapon was used and, more importantly, exactly where this weapon was launched. The investigation into those responsible will take longer. That’s for the long haul, and I’ll tell you more about that at the end. 

Today, we will tell our story within the possibilities available to us. We cannot and do not want to tell you everything yet, because that might jeopardize the investigation and play into the perpetrators’ hands. We won’t be showing all our evidence, we’ve made a selection to illustrate how we reached our conclusions.”

Westerbeke explained that two theories were quickly eliminated: that there was a mechanical failure causing the crash, or that it exploded from the outside. A third theory, “the air-to-air scenario” where MH17 was shot down by another aircraft, was also vetted and ultimately eliminated. The evidence is clear — a 9m39 BUK missile is responsible for the downing of MH17 and the deaths of all onboard.

Westerbeke mentioned that investigators had recently uncovered more video evidence from a Ukrainian mobile radar that was undergoing software tests at the time of the downing. This radar detected flight MH17 and “completes the picture.”  It also does not show another aircraft in the area of MH17 at the time of the incident.

Despite the release this week of further supposed radar data from the Russian Ministry of Defense, Westerbeke said that “the discussion on the radar images may now be concluded as far as we’re concerned,” with the data already gathered by the JIT “amply sufficient to reach conclusions in the criminal investigation.” According to Westerbeke, even the official Russian position is that there was no other aircraft in the area that could have shot down MH17.

Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen presented intercepted phone conversations between Russia-backed fighters in the Donbass, recorded on the evening of July 16 and the morning of July 17, shortly before the Malaysian airliner was struck. The militants discuss the need for a Buk surface-to-air missile system in order to defend against Ukrainian air attacks.

One of the militants tells the other that a Buk would be dispatched to their area, near the town of Marinovka – around 30 kilometres south of the site where MH17 crashed.

The second recording presented by Paulissen was recorded on the morning of the disaster. Here the same militant who was requesting a Buk, whose patronymic is Nikolaevich, is asked where he wants a Buk to be delivered. The other militant says that he has brought the system with him and is already in Donetsk, with the Buk system loaded onto a trailer.

According to Paulissen, the JIT investigated multiple locations to determine from where the BUK missile was launched. Several locations were provided by the Russian Federation, he said, and those locations have also been debunked. These theories have been rigorously studied by The Interpreter, and have been debunked, but the JIT found a piece of evidence we did not have — another intercepted phone call, made by Russian-backed militants who were near one of these locations, who deny that the missile was fired from their location. Not only that, they discuss how that territory was in their control on July 17, 2014, so Ukraine could not have deployed a BUK from that area.

Instead, the investigation pinpointed the launch point to a piece of farmland near Pervomayskoye (Pervomais’ke), 6 kilometers south of Snizhne — the same field The Interpreter and others theorized was the launch site just days after MH17 was shot down.

An animation made by the JIT blends videos and pictures taken by witnesses, satellite imagery and computer animation to show where the BUK missile traveled on its way from Russia, through Donetsk, and on to the launch site. A similar method is used to compare two pictures showing a smoke contrail traveling from the field where the BUK was shot into the sky. Eyewitnesses and journalists also traveled to this field and described the scene to the JIT. Satellite imagery also shows how the field was scorched by a potential launch.

Again, this work confirms investigations done by The Interpreter, Bellingcat, and other open-source investigations, dating back to the days, weeks, and months following the incident.

Though there are fewer images of the BUK TELAR leaving Ukraine, Paulissen said that the JIT reviewed telecommunications data which showed the BUK leaving, including more intercepted phone calls. Furthermore, the JIT concluded, as did The Interpreter, that a video posted online by the Ukrainian government shows the BUK driving from Lugansk to Krasnodon on its way back to Russia. 

Westerbeke also said that future investigations will now focus on who was responsible for the shooting down of the aircraft, opening the way for possible legal and civil actions. He said that 100 persons have been identified who took part in the shooting down of MH17 or the handling of the BUK TELAR. 

“These people were active in getting hold of the BUK TELAR and transporting it to the launch site,” Westerbeke explained. Others have helped in transporting the BUK, though they are not necessarily considered suspects. In order to prove culpability, the chain of command needs to be understood. Who ordered the shooting down of the plane? What were the roles of the different parties involved? That remains to be seen, though Westerbeke said that he is confident the answers will be discovered by the JIT team, based on the success of the investigation thus far.

Transcripts for all of the videos discussed in the JIT report can be found here:  

MH17 Call for witnesses – Transcriptions English

C: Hullo? B: Yes, Good afternoon! C: Andrey Ivanovich! B: Good afternoon, Fiodor Nikolayevich! C: This is Nikolay Fiodorovich! I'm greeting you! B: Nikolay Fiodorovich… Yes… I'm glad to hear you… C: Well… So, how… how is it going there… are you ready to meet …[inaudible]? B: Err…

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Sep 28, 2016 20:28 (GMT)

For more information, see the website for Dutch Public Prosecution Service:

Presentation preliminary results criminal investigation MH17 28-09-2016

Today, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) presents the first results of the criminal investigation into the downing of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014. In the JIT Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine are working together. Image: figures of the investigation This is an extensive and complex investigation.

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Sep 28, 2016 20:26 (GMT)

James Miller, Pierre Vaux