Ukraine: Intercepted audio shows separatist rebels shot down Malaysia Airlines plane

BY Joshua Barajas  July 18, 2014 at 10:50 AM EST


Video of intercepted phone conversations by The New York Times

Ukrainian authorities released what they claim are intercepted telephone conversations between separatist rebels and Russian officers that suggest the insurgency was responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday, killing 298 people on board.

Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the State Security Service, posted a few recorded exchanges to YouTube hours after the crash. The New York Times then published the unverified recordings on their website.

In the first call, a rebel commander, identified as Igor Bezler, purportedly tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces had shot down a plane.

“It’s smoking,” he says.

In the second call, a separatist rebel surveying the crash site describes the scene to another rebel, noting bodies among the rubble. When asked if there were any weapons among the wreckage, the rebel says, “Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medical equipment, towels, toilet paper.”

When asked if there were any documents, the rebel says, “Yes, of one Indonesian student, from a university in Thompson.”

In the third call, a separatist rebel says that media reports that the downed plane, mistaken for a Ukrainian military transport, was a civilian aircraft emblazoned with the Malaysia Airlines logo.

“That means they were carrying spies. [Expletive] them, got it?” a commander identified as Nikolay Kozitsin says.

“They shouldn’t be [expletive] flying. There is a war going on,” he adds.

As of Friday morning, the Associated Press said the audio recordings could not be independently verified. AP also reported that Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted rebel spokesman Sergey Kavtaradze saying that the intercepted phone conversation were not genuine.

On Friday, emergency workers said 181 bodies had been recovered so far from the crash site. A third of the passengers were en route to Australia for a global AIDS conference.

U.S. intelligence said Thursday that the airliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. However, it remains unclear who fired the missile.

Both the Ukrainian government and the separatist rebels, who control the area where Flight 17 crashed, have denied shooting down the plane.

Ukrainian aviation regulators also fully closed the airspace over eastern Ukraine to commercial flights Friday.

The decision affects the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions of eastern Ukraine, where the Ukrainian government and separatist rebels have fought for months. Prior to the crash, several airlines have avoided Ukrainian airspace as clashes continued in these areas.