Dutch prosecutors are investigating a claim by a citizen-journalist group that at least 20 Russian soldiers were involved in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The Britain-based Bellingcat group said it had identified up to 100 Russian soldiers who may have knowledge of the movements of the Buk missile launcher that destroyed the Boeing 777 on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 on board.
In an interview with the Dutch TV channel NOS on January 3, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins said his organization believed at least 20 soldiers in an air-defense unit based in Kursk "probably" either fired the missile or know who fired it.
The sources for the group's findings include the soldiers' social-media accounts, photos posted online, and army data about personnel deployment that was available online.
"We have the names and photos of the soldiers in the June convoy who traveled with the MH17 Buk, their commanders, their commanders’ commanders, etc," Higgins told the London Telegraph.
He added that the group's redacted 123-page report on the matter will be released shortly.
Bellingcat specializes in trawling through data on social media and other online sources. It has been investigating the crash since it occurred.
It reported in 2014 that a Buk mobile launcher was spotted on July 17 in an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists and said that the missile launcher came from a military convoy from Russia's 53rd Antiaircraft Brigade -- a unit based in Kursk but sent on maneuvers near the Ukrainian border.
Dutch prosecutors in charge of the official investigations of the MH17 crash said on January 4 that they were investigating the claims that Russians were involved.
"We received the report just after Christmas," Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor's office, told AFP.
"We will seriously study it and determine whether it can be used for the criminal inquiry," he said.
A criminal investigation by the prosecutors’ office is expected to name suspects in the case later this year.
An air-accident investigation by the Dutch Safety Board released in October concluded that the Boeing 777 was destroyed by a Buk antiaircraft missile fired from a position inside separatist territory.
Russia has denied sending troops or weapons into eastern Ukraine at any time since the war broke out in 2014, and has blamed Kyiv for the shootdown.
The Donetsk People's Republic, the Russian-backed group that controls the area, insists it never had access to BUK missiles and has dismissed evidence showing a BUK launcher operating in the area when the jet was shot down.
With reporting by AFP and the London Telegraph