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Bishkek (AKIpress) - Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for ‘‘creating the conditions’’ that led to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.
The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia, AP reports.
The officials briefed reporters Tuesday under ground rules that their names not be used in discussing intelligence related to last week’s air disaster, which killed 298 people.The plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the intelligence officials said, citing intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.
But the officials said they did not know who fired the missile or whether any Russian operatives were present at the missile launch. They were not certain that the missile crew was trained in Russia, although they described a stepped-up campaign in recent weeks by Russia to arm and train the rebels, which they say has continued even after the downing of the commercial jetliner.
In terms of who fired the missile, ‘‘we don’t know a name, we don’t know a rank and we’re not even 100 percent sure of a nationality,’’ one official said, adding at another point, ‘‘There is not going to be a Perry Mason moment here.’’
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. was still working to determine whether the missile launch had a ‘‘direct link’’ to Russia, including whether there were Russians on the ground during the attack and the degree to which Russians may have trained the separatists to launch such a strike.
From satellites, sensors and other intelligence gathering, officials said, they know where the missile originated — in separatist-held territory — and what its flight path was. But if they possess satellite or other imagery of the missile being fired, they did not release it Tuesday. A graphic they made public depicts their estimation of the missile’s flight path with a green line. The jet’s flight path was available from air traffic control data.