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US coy on Malaysian plane evidence, points to social media and 'common sense'

Published time: July 22, 2014 13:57

A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), Donetsk region July 22, 2014. (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

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Evidence from social media and “common sense” indicate Ukrainian militia shot down the Malaysian Airlines plane, the State Department says. The US also cites its own intelligence which it has refrained from revealing to the public.

In a State Department briefing on Monday, Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said there was a “preponderance of evidence” pointing to the fact that militia in eastern Ukraine downed flight MH17. Harf said the US government’s suspicions were based on information gathered from social media sites.

“We saw in social media afterwards, we saw videos, we saw photos of the pro-Russian separatists bragging about shooting down an aircraft,” she told assembled press.

Unverified tape released by Kiev presented as ‘proof’ E. Ukraine militia downed MH17

Marie Harf (image from wikipedia.org)

When asked whether she could back up the claims with any other evidence, Harf said there is “a host of information” the US had gathered about who did this. However, Harf said the American government is limited to the information that it is allowed to share.

“Sometimes you can’t get into all the specifics,” she said. “Based on open information which is basically common sense, right – we know where it was fired from, we know who has this weapon.”

According to Harf, the Obama administration is attempting to put out as much information as possible that underlies their assessment of the information. The deputy speaker also discouraged people from believing the Russian government’s version of events because it has a history of “misinformation and propaganda” in the Ukrainian conflict.

To blame or not to blame?

On Monday, the Russian military released information that a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet gained altitude towards the Malaysian Boeing on the day of the catastrophe. In addition, they said the plane crashed within the operating zone of the Ukrainian army’s self-propelled, medium-range surface-to-air ‘Buk’ missile systems. The Russian Defense Ministry says Kiev must explain why a military jet was tracking a passenger plane.

Deputy speaker Harf said she could not confirm these reports but would be “happy to check it out.”

She stressed that an investigation was necessary to “get all the facts” and establish who was behind the plane crash that killed 298 people. However, Harf said that she holds the Russian government responsible for the Ukrainian militia’s actions, although she prefers not to blame anyone before conclusive evidence has been found.

“I certainly am blaming the Russians for the pro-Russian separatists’ behavior in general, but we need to get all the facts about this specific incident. We don’t – I don’t want to go out there and put culpability on anyone until we have all of those facts,” she told journalists.

Three Dutch forensics experts arrived in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk on Monday to assess the crash site and check the bodies of the victims. Ukrainian militia in the area have resolved to allow inspectors full access to the evidence and handed over the plane’s in-flight data recorders to Malaysian inspectors on Monday.

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