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Russia: Official Suspects Terrorists Behind Plane Crash

Moscow, 5 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has opened an investigation on suspicion of terrorism into the explosion and crash of a Russian airliner over the Black Sea yesterday. The Tupolev-154 jet, with at least 76 people on board, exploded and plunged into the Black Sea during a scheduled flight from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk in Siberia. Most of the passengers were Israeli citizens.

Russian officials said the investigation would be carried out in close cooperation with the government commission appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin said it was unlikely that a Ukrainian missile can be blamed for the incident. Putin at one point suggested the crash could have been caused by a terrorist act, but later said experts and investigators will make the final conclusion.

President Leonid Kuchma and military authorities have all denied any involvement by Ukrainian forces that were test-firing surface-to air missiles from the Crimean peninsula around the time of yesterday's crash.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said that the direction and the range of the missiles ruled out the possibility that they struck the aircraft. However, yesterday AFP quoted a Ukrainian navy official, Igor Larichev, as saying that a Ukrainian army missile accidentally shot down the airliner.

The ITAR-TASS news agency said 13 bodies have been recovered so far from the crash site and that part of the plane's cockpit has been found. Israel said it is sending a team to help Russian investigators probing the cause of the crash.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin are among leaders from around the world to have sent messages of condolence.