After eight long years, the conspirators behind the deadliest airliner shoot-down incident in history have finally been officially named.
298 people lost their lives on 17 July 2014 when a Russian-made Buk rocket launcher struck Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it passed over eastern Ukraine on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Now, finally, a Dutch court has found the three men behind the horrific act guilty of murder. Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Leonid Kharchenko were found guilty in absentia and sentenced to life in jail.
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Girkin, military leader of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, masterminded the operation and sourced the weapon from Russia, while Dubinsky and Kharchenko transported the launcher to a site in rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
It’s still not known who actually fired the fateful missile.
The three convicted men are believed to have been hoping to bring down a Ukrainian military aircraft. Instead the 18 foot long 9M38M1 missile struck the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER as it cruised at some 33,000 feet over Ukraine.
On board were 298 people, including 80 children and 15 crew. Ten of them were Britons. No-one survived the crash
A Dutch report on the tragedy says the three crew members in the cockpit died instantly when the missile’s 9N314M warhead detonated near the front of the aircraft.
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However, it remains unclear at which point the passengers and the remaining crew died. It’s considered likely that many of them remained conscious during the one-and-a-half minutes it took for the plane to go down.
After crash investigators tied the incident to a Russian-made Buk missile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged Russia to co-operate in the investigation, saying "the priority now is to find and pursue those who are responsible"
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov called the Dutch crash investigation "biased in nature" and insisted Russia was "ready to present its own information"
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That initial uncertainty over who might have been the culprits presented an opportunity for conspiracy theorists eager to impose their own warped views – views encouraged by Russian security service operatives who encouraged the keyboard warriors to muddy the waters.
Conspiracy theorists love to blame the CIA for every disaster, and the MH17 tragedy was no exception. Russian security expert Sergei Sokolov – head of a shadowy organisation called Analytics and Security which boasts close ties to the secret services in Moscow – claimed the jet was shot down in an operation called 17.17 by the CIA and other western intelligence agencies.
Those other conspiracy theory staples, UFOs and the Illuminati, were also considered by the creators of the Illuminati Watcher website.
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There, one of the site’s creators alluded to the other Malaysian Airlines disaster : "I followed the previous Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 (exhaustively) and concluded that it must have been aliens: one of the first conspiracy theories to surface, and until we hear otherwise I'm sticking with it.
"In that MH370 conspiracy theories post I referenced the fact that the alleged Illuminati might have been involved due to the number 777 being tied in. You'll notice that this MH17 was also a Boeing 777."
Even one the four main suspects in the case tried to peddle conspiracy theories in order to derail their prosecution.
Igor Girkin claimed that the downed plane was remote-controlled and packed with already-dead bodies: "According to the people who collected corpses, most of the corpses – 'stale' – people have died up to a few days ago,” he said.
"For the complete accuracy of the information can not answer – of course, it is necessary conclusion of forensic experts."
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Girkin –also known as Igor Strelkov – claimed that investigators that went to the crash site found many of the corpses were “absolutely bloodless”.
But the wild claims were not enough to stop justice being done.
Dutch Judge Hendrik Steenhuis today sentenced the three guilty men to life in prison, saying: “Only the most severe punishment is fitting to retaliate for what the suspects have done, which has caused so much suffering to so many victims and so many surviving relatives”.
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Dutch prosecutors say the missile launcher used in the attack belonged to the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, and the launcher was driven back to their home base in Kursk after MH17 was shot down.
The Kremlin still denies any involvement in the tragedy, and in 2014 it also denied that there were any Russian personnel or weapons in Ukraine.
In a briefing in Moscow earlier, Deputy Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ivan Nechaev told reporters the Russian government would “examine the court's findings”. All three guilty men remain at large.
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