THE HAGUE – Dutch prosecutors said Sunday they will “seriously study” claims by citizen journalists to have identified Russian soldiers implicated in the crash of Malaysia Airlines’ Flight MH17, shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014.
The claims are made by a British-based group of “citizen investigative journalists” called Bellingcat, which specializes in trawling through data on social media and other open sources.
“We received the report just after Christmas,” Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor’s office, said. “We will seriously study it and determine whether it can be used for the criminal inquiry,” de Bruin said.
Flight MH17 was downed over war-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, by a BUK surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 passengers and crew aboard, air crash investigators said last October.
Western nations and Ukraine say the missile was fired from pro-Russian separatist-held territory, but Moscow denies the claim, pointing the finger instead at the Ukrainian military.
The Netherlands has launched a criminal probe into those responsible for the shooting, but many experts doubt whether it will succeed.
In 2014, Bellingcat reported that a BUK mobile launcher, spotted on July 17 in an area controlled by pro-Russian rebels, came from a military convoy from Russia’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade — a unit based in Kursk but sent on maneuvers near the Ukrainian border.
The launcher was later filmed again, but at least one of its missiles was missing.
In an interview with Dutch TV channel NOS on Sunday, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins said his organization has now identified 20 soldiers in this brigade.
This is “probably” the group that either knows who fired or has that individual among its number, Higgins said.
The sources for this include photos posted on the Internet and army data about personnel deployment that was available online, NOS said.
It added that a redacted version of the report should be published “shortly.”
De Bruin said Dutch prosecutors have “already been in contact” with Bellingcat in the past.