Senior United States intelligence officials said Russia trained and equipped separatists responsible for the shooting down of MH17 with a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine, but noted that the rebels may have targeted the plane presuming it to be a Ukrainian military jet.
The officials released some of the sensitive intelligence informations, including satellite images, to a select group of reporters on Tuesday claiming them to be evidences that Russia had trained and equipped rebels responsible for the attack, The Washington Post reported.
The United States and Ukraine have blamed Moscow and Russia-backed separatists for the tragic incident that killed all 298 people on board Malaysia Airline MH17.
Russia has denied its direct involvement. According to the daily, intelligence officials cited sensors that traced the path of the missile, shrapnel markings on the downed aircraft, voice-print analysis of separatists claiming credit for the strike, and a flood of photos and other data from social-media sites.
The officials ruled out the possibility that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the attack, saying Ukraine had no anti-aircraft missile system within range of the Malaysian flight at the time it was struck.
“We are seeing a full-court press by the Russian government to instruct affiliated or friendly elements to manipulate the media environment to spread Russia’s version of the story. What this looks like again is a classic case of blaming the victims,” the official was quoted as saying by the daily.
The Post said US spy agencies have not reached any conclusions on the motive for the attack. But they did note that the reaction among separatists recorded on social media indicates they believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military transport plane.
Officials declined to provide details on the satellites and other sophisticated sensors that enabled them to trace the path of the missile, citing concerns about compromising secret US capabilities.
The officials also released the missile path which showed that it was fired from “a geographic area” controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The missile followed the near-vertical flight path characteristic of an SA-11 launch. “We did pick up a launch. We were able to have the ability to track this specific launch,” an unnamed official was quoted as saying.
Image: Pro-Russian separatists look at passengers' belongings at the crash site.