WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States began building a case Friday that would pin the blame for the downing of the passenger jet over Ukraine on separatist forces believed to be backed by Russia, an incident that could dramatically escalate the crisis in Ukraine.
President Barack Obama was to speak about the shootdown from the White House shortly after an extraordinary speech at the United Nations by American Ambassador Samantha Power. She said the U.S. could not rule out that Russian personnel had assisted separatists in firing a missile at the Malaysian Airlines plane carrying 298 people.
"Russia can end this war," Power said. "Russia must end this war."
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a single investigator to Ukraine as part of a U.S. delegation to assist with the investigation. Other agencies, including the FBI and FAA, were also expected to send representatives.
The White House has taken the lead in forming the delegation, according to a U.S. official familiar with the effort. A command center has been set up at the State Department, where officials from agencies participating in the delegation gathered Friday morning for a briefing from the CIA on the political and military situation in Ukraine, the official said.
A second U.S. official said all available evidence, including satellite imagery, pointed to the plane being shot down by an SA-11 anti-aircraft missile fired from eastern Ukraine by Ukrainian separatist forces. The U.S. detected three discrete events associated with the shootdown, the official said: the launching of the missile from the Ukraine side of the border, the missile's impact with the plane, and the plane slamming into the ground.
Both officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss U.S. intelligence matters publicly by name.
The attack Thursday afternoon killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations, including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists. At least 189 of the dead were from the Netherlands. So far, there has been no confirmation of any Americans on board.
The plane was shot down in eastern, Ukraine, near the border with Russia, in an area where Moscow's support for pro-Russian separatists has alarmed the U.S. and its European allies. The incident occurred one day after Obama announced broader economic sanctions against Russia for its threatening moves in Ukraine.
Associated Press writers Joan Lowy and Robert Burns contributed to this report.
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