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Four suspects named in deadly downing of Malaysian MH17 flight

Photos of the suspects were displayed at a press conference given by the investigators [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 June, 2019

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International investigators named three Russians and a Ukrainian separatist as suspects in the 2014 downing of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight, which killed all 298 passengers on board.

The international investigation team into the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 charged three Russians and a Ukrainian separatist on Wednesday with the murder of 298 people on board the plane that was shot down over Ukraine.

Dutch National Police chief Wilbert Paulissen identified Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, along with Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, as suspects in the downing of the plane, and announced that their trial would start in March 2020.

The plane went down over an area of eastern Ukraine held by separatist rebels backed by Russia.

The team said that even if the four may not have pushed the button itself to launch a Buk missile that downed the plane, they were implicated in the preparations of the launch, making it sufficient to charge them.

The announcement of the prosecution team further pointed fingers at the Russian authorities and called on further cooperation from the government.

They said that they did not ask for the extradition of the four since the Russian Constitution prohibits it.

Still, prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said "in the short term we will ask Russia to hand the summons to the suspects." He added that we will "ask for Russia to cooperate again with legal help."

Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce was among the dead, expressed relief that five years after the plane was blown out of the sky above conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, a trial could finally start next year.

"This is what we hoped for," Fredriksz-Hoogzand said. "This is a start of it. It is a good start."

She added that she did not expect any of them to appear for the trial, due to begin on March 9.

Suspect Igor Girkin denied in a telephone call to the Associated Press that the rebels were responsible for the downing of the plane, saying, "the insurgents did not shoot it down."

Girkin, a Russian national, was a military chief of the Russia-backed rebels in the area.

All 298 passengers and crew on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed on July 17, 2014, when a missile shattered the Boeing 777 in midair, sending debris and bodies raining down onto farms and fields of sunflowers.

The investigation team, made up of detectives and prosecutors from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, last year said that it was convinced that the Buk missile system used to shoot down flight MH17 came from the Russian army's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade, based in the Russian city of Kursk.

Russia has always denied responsibility for shooting down the flight and claimed last year that the Buk missile came from Ukrainian army arsenals.

The Netherlands and Australia have said they hold Moscow responsible for providing the Buk missile system used in the downing.

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