Missile launcher in MH17 downing tied to Russia military; Investigators appeal for help

The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashableThe Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashable

The missile that shot down flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine in July 2014 came from the Russian Armed Forces, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) revealed at a press conference on Thursday morning. The question of who shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight was not answered on Thursday.

The investigators previously revealed that the BUK missile used to shoot down MH17 was transported from Russia to a field in Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. The BUK missile system was photographed and recorded multiple times in Ukraine on July 17th and 18th, 2014. On these photographs and recordings, a number of identifying marks of the BUK missile system can be clearly seen. These form the BUK's so-called fingerprint, that distinguishes it from other BUK missile systems.

The JIT now managed to track the missile to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Dutch National Detectives, explained. The JIT tracked a convoy of 53rd Brigade vehicles, including six BUK missile systems, starting in Kursk on June 23rd 2014 and ending in Millerovo - 25 kilometers from the border with Ukraine - on June 25th. The JIT has conclusive evidence that the BUK used to shoot down MH17 is one of the missile systems in this convoy. The investigators compared the MH17 BUK's fingerprint with a large number of images of BUKs used by Russia and Ukraine. After extensive investigation, the JIT concluded that the fingerprint of the BUK used to shoot down MH17 matched that of one of the BUK's in the 53rd brigade convoy, and no other. 

Paulissen urgently called on anyone who can provide more useful information to come forward. The JIT wants to know who formed part of the crew that worked on the convoy, what instructions were they given, and who was responsible for the convoy. The team would also like to get its hands on more information regarding the procedures and responsibilities within the brigade. 

The JIT also revealed that they've made a lot of progress in investigating the 100 people of interest in this investigation. The number of potential suspects has been reduced significantly, the team said. The JIT could not comment on when the trial against he suspected perpetrators will begin. "What I can say is that we are in the last phase of the investigation. But there is still a lot of work to do."

The investigators acknowledged that international collective Bellingcat already came to these conclusions two years ago. But the JIT has to conclusively validate each piece of evidence before it can be used in the case against the perpetrators, which takes a long time. 

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, 2014. All 298 people on board the plane were killed, including 196 Dutch. The Joint Investigation Team is made up of the five countries most affected by the disaster - the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine.