John-Thor Dahlburg

NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands: An international criminal probe concluded a missile that destroyed a Malaysian passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014 and killed all 298 people aboard was fired from rebel-controlled territory by a mobile launcher trucked in from Russia and returned there.

The report, released Wednesday, was “solid proof” of a Russian role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Ukraine’s president said. But Moscow immediately denounced the findings of the Dutch-led inquiry as “biased and politically motivated.”

Investigators have identified 100 people they want to speak to who are believed to have been involved in transporting the Buk missile launcher or its use, chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said at a news conference.

The Boeing 777, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was blown out of the sky on July 17, 2014, in eastern Ukraine amid fierce fighting between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops. Ukraine immediately blamed the rebels, although they and the Kremlin consistently denied involvement.

The Joint Investigation Team, led by prosecutors and police from the Netherlands, made its preliminary findings public after interviewing more than 200 witnesses, listening to 150,000 intercepted phone calls, examining half a million photos and video recordings, consulting radar and satellite images, and sifting through dozens of containers filled with jet wreckage.

“It may be concluded MH17 was shot down by a 9M38 missile launched by a Buk brought in from the territory of the Russian Federation, and that after launch was subsequently returned to the Russian Federation,” said Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Dutch National Police Central Crime Investigation Department.

The surface-to-air weapon that destroyed the jetliner at 33,000 feet was fired from farmland in the rebel-held area of Pervomaiskiy, the investigation found. Witnesses there reported an explosion and a whistling sound.

The conclusions of the investigative unit, which included police and prosecutors from the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium, Australia and Malaysia, were consistent with earlier reporting by the Associated Press, which established soon after the jet’s destruction that a tracked Buk M-1 launcher with four surface-to-air missiles had been seen July 17 in the rebel-controlled town of Snizhne near Pervomaiskiy.

Families of the victims, about two-thirds of whom were Dutch, were told of investigators’ findings at a closed-door meeting earlier Wednesday.

Hans de Borst, whose 17-year-old daughter, Elsemiek, was aboard Flight 17, called it a “big relief” to learn that investigators believe the evidence painstakingly assembled over two years will stand up in court if suspects can be identified and brought to justice.

Last fall, a Dutch Safety Board investigation concluded the jetliner was brought down by a Buk, but those findings were not intended to be used in a criminal trial.