THE WORLDPOST
07/17/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Shot Down Over Ukraine, U.S. Officials Say

A passenger plane carrying 298 people aboard that crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday was shot down, U.S. officials told multiple news outlets. All passengers are presumed dead.

Body parts were scattered for miles around the crash site, near towns held by Russian-backed separatists. An emergency services rescue worker said that at least 100 bodies had been found at the scene.

Many of the passengers aboard the flight were heading to a conference on AIDS research in Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald cited conference attendees in reporting that approximately 100 of the passengers were heading to the conference, including former president of the International AIDS Society Joep Lange.

Ukrainian officials blamed separatists for the attack on the plane, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Minister, wrote on Facebook that the plane was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher over the country's east. Ukraine's intelligence agency claimed it intercepted phone calls that proved rebels' ties to the crash.

U.S. officials told NBC News that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, and that they "were trying to determine who fired the missile." Russian separatists have shot down several Ukrainian military planes in recent months.

The Daily Beast reports that the plane's black box had been sent to Moscow for investigation, citing a Russian radio station.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine bore responsibility for the crash, saying in televised comments, "This tragedy would not have happened, if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed."

Airlines scrambled to divert their flights away from Ukrainian airspace following the crash.

President Obama spoke briefly about the incident, calling it a "terrible tragedy." Vice President Biden also commented, saying the crash was "not an accident."

Ukraine's east has seen heavy fighting since the country's army launched an operation to recapture eastern cities from rebel fighters.

More from the AP:

HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down a Malaysian jetliner with 298 people aboard, sharply escalating the crisis and threatening to draw both East and West deeper into the conflict. The rebels denied downing the aircraft.

American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought the plane down Thursday but were still working on who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukrainian side of the border, a U.S. official said.

Bodies, debris and burning wreckage of the Boeing 777 were strewn over a field near the rebel-held village of Hrabove in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border, where fighting has raged for months.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden described the plane as having been "blown out of the sky."

The aircraft appeared to have broken up before impact, and there were large pieces of the plane that bore the red, white and blue markings of Malaysia Airlines — now familiar worldwide because of the carrier's still-missing jetliner from earlier this year.

The cockpit and one of the turbines lay at a distance of one kilometer (more than a half-mile) from one another. Residents said the tail was about 10 kilometers (six miles) farther away. Rescue workers planted sticks with white flags in spots where they found human remains.

There was no sign of any survivors from Flight 17, which took off shortly after noon Thursday from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers, including three infants, and a crew of 15. Malaysia's prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it an "act of terrorism" and demanded an international investigation. He insisted his forces did not shoot down the plane.

In Kuala Lumpur, several relatives of those aboard the jet came to the international airport.

A distraught Akmar Mohamad Noor, 67, said her older sister was coming to visit the family for the first time in five years. "She called me just before she boarded the plane and said, 'See you soon,'" Akmar said.

It was the second time a Malaysia Airlines plane was lost in less than six months. Flight 370 disappeared in March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It has not been found, but the search has been concentrated in the Indian Ocean far west of Australia.

"This is just too much," said Cindy Tan, who was waiting at the airport for a friend on another flight. "I don't know really why this happened to a MAS (Malaysia Airlines) plane again."

Ukraine's security services produced what they said were two intercepted telephone conversations that showed rebels were responsible. In the first call, the security services said, rebel commander Igor Bezler tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane. In the second, two rebel fighters — one of them at the crash scene — say the rocket attack was carried out by a unit of insurgents about 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the site.

Neither recording could be independently verified.

Earlier in the week, the rebels had claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian military planes.

President Barack Obama called the crash a "terrible tragedy" and spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Poroshenko. Britain asked for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Ukraine.

Later, Putin said Ukraine bore responsibility for the crash, but he didn't address the question of who might have shot it down and didn't accuse Ukraine of doing so.

"This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine," Putin said, according to a Kremlin statement issued early Friday. "And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."

At the United Nations, Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told the AP that Russia gave the separatists a sophisticated missile system and thus Moscow bears responsibility, along with the rebels.

Officials said more than half of those aboard the plane were Dutch citizens, along with passengers from Australia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Philippines and Canada. The home countries of nearly 50 were not confirmed.

"We owe it as well to the families of the dead to find out exactly what has happened and exactly who is responsible," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in Parliament Friday. "As things stand, this looks less like an accident than a crime. And if so, the perpetrators must be brought to justice."

The different nationalities of the dead would bring Ukraine's conflict to parts of the globe that were never touched by it before.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was "horrified" by the crash, and said the United States was prepared to help with an international investigation.

Ukraine's crisis began after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office in February by a protest movement among citizens angry about endemic corruption and seeking closer ties with the European Union. Russia later annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine, and pro-Russians in the country's eastern regions began occupying government buildings and pressing for independence. Moscow denies Western charges it is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest.

Kenneth Quinn of the Flight Safety Foundation said an international coalition of countries should lead the investigation. Safety experts say they're concerned that because the plane crashed in area of Ukraine that is in dispute, political considerations could affect the investigation.

The RIA-Novosti agency quoted rebel leader Alexander Borodai as saying talks were underway with Ukrainian authorities on calling a short truce for humanitarian reasons. He said international organizations would be allowed into the conflict-plagued region.

Some journalists trying to reach the crash site were detained briefly by rebel militiamen, who were nervous and aggressive.

Aviation authorities in several countries, including the FAA in the United States, had issued warnings not to fly over parts of Ukraine prior to Thursday's crash, but many carriers, including cash-strapped Malaysia Airlines, had continued to use the route because "it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money," said aviation expert Norman Shanks.

Within hours of Thursday's crash, several airlines said they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace.

Malaysia Airlines said Ukrainian aviation authorities told the company they had lost contact with Flight 17 at 1415 GMT (10:15 a.m. EDT) about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Tamak waypoint, which is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Russia-Ukraine border.

A U.S. official said American intelligence authorities believe the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile but were still working to determine additional details about the crash, including who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukraine side of the border.

But American intelligence assessments suggest it is more likely pro-Russian separatists or the Russians rather than Ukrainian government forces shot down the plane, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The United States has sophisticated technologies that can detect missile launches, including the identification of heat from the rocket engine.

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on his Facebook page the plane was flying at about 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) when it was hit by a missile from a Buk launcher, which can fire up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet). He said only that his information was based on "intelligence."

Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said both Ukrainian and Russian forces have SA-17 missile systems — also known as Buk ground-to-air launcher systems.

Rebels had bragged recently about having acquired Buk systems.

Sutyagin said Russia had supplied separatists with military hardware but had seen no evidence "of the transfer of that type of system from Russia."

Earlier Thursday, AP journalists saw a launcher that looked like a Buk missile system near the eastern town of Snizhne, which is held by the rebels.

Poroshenko said his country's armed forces didn't shoot at any airborne targets.

"We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets," he said.

The Kremlin said Putin "informed the U.S. president of the report from air traffic controllers that the Malaysian plane had crashed on Ukrainian territory" without giving further details about their call. The White House confirmed the call.

Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told the AP he was certain that Ukrainian troops had shot the plane down, but gave no explanation or proof.

There have been several disputes over planes being shot down over eastern Ukraine in recent days.

A Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down Wednesday by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting the insurgents.

Pro-Russia rebels claimed responsibility for strikes on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets Wednesday. Ukraine's Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile but the pilot landed safely.

___

Peter Leonard reported from Kiev with contributions from an Associated Press reporter in Hrabove, Ukraine. Also contributing were AP Airlines Writer Scott Mayerowitz in New York; Jill Lawless and Matthew Knight in London; Laura Mills and Jim Heintz in Moscow; Lolita C. Baldor and Darlene Superville in Washington; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands; and Eileen Ng and Satish Cheney in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

07/25/2014 11:29 PM EDT

Document: EU Extends Russia Sanctions

A document shows that EU sanctions ar targeting Russian businesses, the AP reports:

A European Union document shows that among those targeted by the EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban are Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security.

Also targeted is Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB service that oversees international operations and intelligence activity.

Read the full story here.

07/25/2014 5:21 PM EDT

AP Journalists Saw Rebels With BUK Missiles Hours Before MH17 Crashed

Associated Press journalists in Ukraine saw a BUK missile system -- the type that the US says downed Flight MH17 -- in rebel hands just hours before the plane was shot down, the news agency says in detailed account of the day's events. AP says that while the rebels officially deny responsibility, "the denials are increasingly challenged by accounts of residents, the observations of journalists on the ground, and the statements of one rebel official." Further, one rebel official told AP that they were behind the plane tragedy.

More from the AP story:

A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible. He said a unit based in the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, made up of both Russians and Ukrainians, was involved in the firing of an SA-11 from near Snizhne. The rebel, who has direct access to the inner circle of the insurgent leadership in Donetsk, said that he could not be named because he was contradicting the rebels' official line.

The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, this person said. Instead, they hit the passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed.

Read the full account here.

07/25/2014 2:59 PM EDT

White House: Russia 'Culpable' For Downed Jet

In a briefing on Friday, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said there has been a "steady flow" of weapons from Russia into Ukraine, and emphasized the position that Russia played a role in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch reports.

The Pentagon said on Friday that the transfer of missile systems from Russia to separatists in Ukraine appeared to be imminent. On Thursday, the U.S. claimed that Russia had fired on Ukrainian military positions.

07/25/2014 1:54 PM EDT

Ukrainian Security Release Tape Of Rebels Allegedly Discussing MH17

Ukraine's security service, SBU, on Friday released a recording it said was of a phone call between pro-Russian separatists discussing a plane overhead, minutes before the Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over east Ukraine. “I see… Roger... Report it upstairs,” the rebel commander says, according to a translation.

Writing for Mashable, Christopher Miller notes that the recording has not been authenticated and the commander "stops short of giving the order to shoot down Flight 17," however the implication is clearly to build a case that the rebels shot down the plane.

07/25/2014 1:14 PM EDT

Russia Accuses U.S. Of 'Smear Campaign' Over Ukraine

Responding to U.S. officials assertion that Russia was firing artillery on Ukrainian military positions across the border, Russia on Friday countered by calling the claim a baseless "smear campaign,"AFP reports.

A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said, "Due to the smear campaign against us that the US Administration has begun... we reject the unfounded public insinuations that US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is spreading on a daily basis," adding that Harf has used "a basketful of these anti-Russian cliches," to influence perceptions of Russia. The statement refuted the U.S. State Departments claim on Russia targeting Ukraine military, saying "There are no facts or specifics about these falsehoods."

More from AFP.

-- Andrew Hart

07/25/2014 1:06 PM EDT

U.S. Ambassador: 15,000 Russian Troops At Border

07/25/2014 12:58 PM EDT

More On The Remarks Out Of The Pentagon

Reuters reports:

The Pentagon said on Friday the transfer of heavy caliber multiple launch rocket systems from

Russia to Ukrainian separatists appeared to be imminent, with the arms close enough to the border they could be handed over "potentially today."

"We have indications that the Russians intend to supply heavier and more sophisticated multiple launch rocket systems in the very near future," said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the weapons were in the over-200mm range.

Warren indicated the weapons had been seen getting closer to the border and the Pentagon believed a transfer was imminent and "potentially today."

"We believe that they are able to transfer this equipment at any time, at any moment," he said.

07/25/2014 12:45 PM EDT

Pentagon Says Russia Is Readying Weapons For Transfer To Ukraine Rebels

07/25/2014 11:34 AM EDT

Australia To Send 100 Additional Police and Personnel To Secure Crash Site

Reuters reports:

(Reuters) - Australia will send 100 additional police and some defense force personnel to Europe to join a planned Dutch-led international security force to secure the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, some of whom will be armed, will join a contingent of 90 AFP officers already in London waiting for a deal with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to be approved by Ukraine's parliament.

"This is a humanitarian mission, with a clear and simple objective," Abbott told reporters. "I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks."

Read the full story here.

07/25/2014 11:03 AM EDT

Russian Newspaper Runs Front Page Apology For MH17

A leading Russian newspaper has issued an apology on its front page, asking for forgiveness from the people of the Netherlands who lost their loved ones in the Malaysian Airlines plane crash. The front page of Novaya Gazeta on Friday featured the words "Vergeef ons, Nederlands" (Forgive Us, Netherlands) in bold above a heartbreaking image of the line of hearses carrying MH17 victim's bodies.

Read the full story on the Huffington Post here.

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