Dutch investigators said Monday that they will investigate the claims by a British-based group of citizen investigative journalists called Bellingcat, which said that it has identified the Russian soldiers allegedly involved in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine. All 298 people on board were killed after the plane was downed on July 17, 2014, by a BUK surface-to-air missile. The incident triggered an investigation by Dutch authorities while several major airlines changed their routes to avoid Ukrainian airspace.
In an interview with the Dutch TV channel NOS, cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP), Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, said that his organization has identified about 20 soldiers in this brigade who "probably" either know who fired the missile or have that person among the group. The local news network reported that sources for the story include photos posted on the internet and army data available online about personnel deployed in the region. The news network also said that it will publish a redacted version of the story soon, AFP reported.
“We received the report just after Christmas,” Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor’s office, said Sunday, according to AFP, adding: “We will seriously study it and determine whether it can be used for the criminal inquiry.”
Bellingcat said in 2014 that a BUK mobile launcher was seen in an area controlled by rebels and alleged that the launcher was part of Russia’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade based in Kursk, which lies close to the Ukrainian border. Bellingcat also said that the launcher was later seen and pictured with one of its missiles missing.
De Bruin reportedly said that Dutch investigators who opened a criminal probe into the downing of MH17 have been "in contact" with Bellingcat in the past.
After the plane was downed, Western powers and Ukraine said that the missile was fired from an area held by pro-Russian rebels but Russia has denied the allegation. Moscow has instead blamed the Ukrainian military for the incident.
The latest report follows the final conclusion in October by Dutch investigators who said that MH17 was indeed brought down by a Russian-made BUK missile system. Following the report, Moscow urged the United Nations’ aviation body to begin a fresh investigation into the plane’s downing.
"The Russian commission categorically disagrees with the conclusions of the final report. They are fundamentally wrong, the lack of logic there is beyond comparison," Oleg Storchevoi, the deputy head of Russia's federal air transport agency, said in October. "I had a feeling that the commission was cherry-picking the evidence to suit a theory they had chosen."