Fast Facts

  • Airliner was brought down in east Ukraine in 2014
  • All 298 people on board were killed
  • Victims' families want to know who was responsible
  • Russia denies missile was fired from rebel-held area 

A Malaysian airliner shot down in eastern Ukraine was hit by a missile launched from an area controlled by Russia-backed rebels and the delivery system then retreated back into Russian territory, investigators said on Wednesday.

The findings challenge Russia's suggestion that Malaysia Airlines flight 17 - en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July 2014 - was brought down by the Ukrainian military. All 298 people on board, most of them Dutch citizens, were killed.

The prosecutors cannot file charges but victims' relatives have been seeking details of who shot the plane down in the hope it might lead eventually to prosecutions. The incident led to a sharp rise in East-West tensions.

Ukraine town holds memorial for MH17 victims

"The investigators made it very clear that what they've made public to us is really only the tip of the iceberg, because they need to keep a lot of this material in reserve for what they hope will be a criminal investigation.

"Possibly they will bring charges of murder - and possibly even charges of war crimes," said Al Jazeera's Neave Barker, reporting from the Dutch city of Nieuwegein where the report was released.

Russia responded by denouncing the international investigation as "biased" and "politically motivated".

"It has become the norm for our western colleagues to arbitrarily designate a guilty party and invent the desired results," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

The Buk missile system used to shoot down the plane fired one missile from the Ukraine village of Pervomaysk and later returned to Russian territory, said the prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine.

It was not clear whether an order had been given for fighters to launch the missile, or whether they had acted independently, prosecutors said.

They told a news conference in Nieuwegein the investigative team had identified 100 people who were described as being of interest to them, but had not yet been formally identified as suspects.

"Based on results of the criminal investigation it may be concluded that MH17 was shot down on July 17, 2014 by a 9M38 series missile launched by a Buk system, which was brought in from the territory of the Russian Federation and, after the launch, was subsequently returned to the Russian Federation territory," said Wilbert Paulissen, lead detective with the Dutch police.

READ MORE: Calls grow to prosecute those who shot down MH17

A civilian investigation by the Dutch Safety Board also concluded last year that MH17 was hit by a Buk missile fired from eastern Ukraine, but Moscow denied that pro-Russian rebels were responsible.

Repeating those denials on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "First-hand radar data identified all flying objects which could have been launched or were in the air over the territory controlled by rebels at that moment."

"The data are clear-cut ... there is no rocket. If there was a rocket, it could only have been fired from elsewhere," he said.

Investigators said they had not had access to the new radar images on which Moscow was basing its latest statements.

Relatives demand justice

Victims' families were informed of the findings shortly before the prosecutors' news conference.

At the time of the incident on July 17, 2014, pro-Russian separatists were fighting Ukrainian government forces in the region.

The Boeing 777 broke apart in midair, flinging wreckage over several kilometres of fields in rebel-held territory.

Speaking before the news conference, Silene Fredriksz - whose 23-year-old son Bryce was on the plane with his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers - said the victims' families want justice.

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"As a family we are impatient. We want to know what happened, how it happened and why? We want those responsible to face justice," she said.

The downing of the airliner played a significant part in a decision by the European Union and United States to impose sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

Ukrainian and western officials, citing intelligence intercepts, have blamed pro-Russian rebels for the incident. Russia has always denied direct involvement in the Ukraine conflict and rejects responsibility for the destruction of MH17.

Prosecutors have sought legal assistance from Moscow since October 2014, and visited in person for a week in July.

"Russian authorities have offered information in the past, but have not answered all questions," they said in a statement at the time.

Source: Al Jazeera News And Agencies