SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia said on Friday that it was “sickened” after new footage emerged purportedly of Russian-backed rebels rummaging through the luggage of passengers killed after Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, as a ceremony marked the disaster’s one-year anniversary.
The video was obtained by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and published exactly a year after the Malaysia Airlines plane was blown out of the sky during a routine flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur.
All 298 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 777 were killed, the majority of them Dutch, but with 38 Australian citizens and residents among them.
“It is sickening to watch and 12 months on from the downing of MH17 it is deeply concerning that this footage has emerged now,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the Nine Network, without being able to verify the authenticity of the video.
“It is certainly consistent with the intelligence advice that we received 12 months ago, that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile,” she added.
The newspaper claimed the footage, which it said was smuggled out of the fighters’ Donetsk base and only obtained this week, was filmed by the rebels themselves as they captured what they initially believed to be a Ukrainian air force fighter jet they had shot down.
The film records their apparent dismay as they discover the aircraft was a commercial plane.
The video also shows men, holding guns and dressed in army camouflage, wandering among the downed plane’s wreckage, rifling through bags and scattering their contents on the ground.
A published transcript of the video commentary, translated from Russian and Ukrainian to English, appears to indicate they are looking for evidence of who was on board.
The newspaper said that in one frame, a man wore a clearly visible identification tag from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic around his neck.
Release of the footage coincided with a service in the national capital Canberra to mark the tragedy’s one-year anniversary, attended by 120 relatives of those who died.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott unveiled a plaque, mounted on soil brought back from the spot where plane was crashed, commemorating the Australian victims.
“Today we remember our dead, we thank those who brought them home. But most of all, we acknowledge the suffering of the bereaved,” he said.
“You have had the worst year of your life. Today our nation pauses to acknowledge your tragedy.”
- ‘Reckless indifference’ -
Abbott earlier told national radio the video highlighted that “this was an atrocity, it was in no way an accident”.
“They may not have known that they were shooting down a passenger plane but they were deliberately shooting out of the sky what they knew was a large aircraft,” he said.
“There was a reckless indifference, if you like, to where that missile was going.”
The plane was shot down during a bout of heavy fighting last year between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, sparking global condemnation.
Kiev and the West point the finger at the separatists, saying they may have used a BUK surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia. But Moscow denies involvement and instead accuses Ukraine’s military.
A criminal probe by a joint investigation team consisting of Australian, Belgian, Dutch, Malaysian and Ukrainian detectives is currently underway.
The five countries have also asked the United Nations Security Council to establish an international criminal tribunal to try those responsible for crimes connected to the plane’s downing.
Britain, one of the permanent members of the Security Council, backed the move on Friday.