Washington (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry laid out "extraordinary circumstantial evidence" Sunday that Ukrainian pro-Russian rebels were behind the downing of a Malaysian jet hit by weapons obtained from Russia.
US intelligence suggests that a sophisticated SA11 missile system was used to bring down flight MH17 on Thursday as it flew at some 33,000 feet over Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Kerry said. A total of 298 people on board were killed in the disaster that has shocked the world.
"It's pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia in the hands of separatists," Kerry told CNN as he blitzed the Sunday television talk shows.
"We know with confidence, with confidence, that the Ukrainians did not have such a system anywhere near the vicinity at that point in time. So it obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists."
The top US diplomat also slammed "grotesque" scenes at the crash site where he said rebels were hampering the investigation and the proper removal of the bodies.
International monitors said Sunday that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine had loaded scores of bodies from the crash site into train cars. The rebels said the bodies would be kept in the refrigerated cars, and that they had to be removed from the crash site because of the heat and fears they would become prey for wild dogs.
World leaders have demanded Russian President Vladimir Putin use his influence to persuade the rebels to hand over the victims and allow international investigators unfettered access to the crash site in eastern Grabove.
US evidence pointed to the involvement of the separatists in Thursday's horrific crash, Kerry, a former prosecutor said, adding Washington had "extraordinary circumstantial evidence" although he stopped short of actually accusing them of firing a missile at the plane.
"We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory," he told NBC's "Meet the Press." "We know where it came from. We know the timing."
"And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar. We also know, from voice identification, that the separatists were bragging about shooting it down afterwards."
Kerry also told CNN's "State of the Union" that "we know for certain that the separatists have a proficiency that they've gained by training from Russians as to how to use these sophisticated SA11 systems. We know they have the system."
And "within hours of this event, this particular system passed through two towns right in the vicinity of the shootdown," he said.
Kerry added there was also video of an SA11 launcher being trucked back into Russia after the disaster, with "at least one missing missile."
"We need a full access to this site to be able to conduct a thorough investigation," he insisted on CBS's "Face the Nation."
- 'Grotesque' scenes at site -
What was now happening at the crash site where international investigators have only had limited access was "really grotesque," Kerry added on NBC.
"There are reports of drunken separatist soldiers unceremoniously piling bodies into trucks, removing both bodies, as well as evidence, from the site," Kerry alleged.
The US secretary of state renewed calls for Putin to step up and pressure the rebels to allow unfettered access to the site, saying it was a "moment of truth for Russia and Mr. Putin."
While he stopped short of directly blaming Moscow or the separatists for the disaster, Kerry insisted on CNN: "We want the facts. And the fact that the separatists are controlling this in a way that is preventing people from getting there, even as the site is tampered with, makes its own statement about culpability and responsibility."
"It is clear that Russia supports the separatists, supplies the separatists, encourages the separatists, trains the separatists. And Russia needs to step up and make a difference here," he added on NBC.
- John Kerry
- circumstantial evidence