SYDNEY – A year after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, Australian leaders have slammed harrowing video footage that appears to show Russian-speaking fighters rifling through the belongings of victims at the crash site.
News Corp Australia published the video Friday as relatives of the 298 people killed aboard the commercial airliner still wait for those responsible to be brought to justice.
The footage shows smoldering wreckage strewn across a grassy field. At one point, a man dressed in combat fatigues dumps clothes and other belongings out of a backpack.
In the background, voices can be heard speaking Russian, telling “civilians” to leave the area.
People talking off camera remark that the aircraft was a passenger plane carrying foreigners. One of them asks how it was allowed to fly through the area.
News Corp Australia reported that Russian-backed rebels filmed the footage using a camcorder.
CNN couldn’t immediately verify whether the video is authentic or who the people in it are. But top government officials in Australia, 38 of whose citizens and residents were on the aircraft, spoke out about it.
News Corp Australia flagged the footage as new in its reports Friday, but it appears at least some may already have been in the public domain.
Minister: ‘It is disgusting’
“It is disgusting to watch that video footage,” Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told CNN affiliate Sky News. “I can’t verify the authenticity of it, but it is certainly consistent with all that we were told, the advice that we received 12 months ago, that Flight MH17 had been shot down by a missile in eastern Ukraine and that the pro-Russian separatists were involved.”
Multiple Western nations, as well as the Ukrainian government, have said they believe pro-Russian rebels operating in the region shot down the plane. Rebel leaders and the Russian government have repeatedly disputed the accusations.
The crash site was in an area of war-torn eastern Ukraine largely controlled by rebel groups.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the video “highlights the fact that this was an atrocity, it was in no way an accident. They may not have known that they were shooting down a civilian passenger plane, but they were deliberately shooting out of the sky what they knew was a large aircraft.”
“We are confident that it was weaponry that came across the border from Russia, fired and then shortly thereafter — once it was realized what had happened — it went back into Russia,” Abbott said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
MH17: What they left behind
Chaos at crash site
Reports of people going through victims’ belongings at the chaotic, unsecured MH17 crash site aren’t new. Western and Ukrainian leaders criticized such acts last year.
“The facts of looting, how the terrorists are dealing with the bodies, are beyond the moral boundaries,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose government is locked in a bitter conflict with the rebels, said at the time.
The reported interference with the wreckage and difficulties gaining access to the crash site have complicated the task of investigators seeking to establish what happened.
In one case highlighting the free-for-all at the site, a television reporter caused an uproar by rummaging through the contents of an open suitcase during a broadcast.
Video of the immediate aftermath of the disaster has also emerged previously, and unverified material has circulated online.
News Corp Australia said it had turned the video it published Friday over to international investigators this week. The Dutch Safety Board, which has been leading the investigation into the crash, declined to comment on the video when CNN contacted it.
The coverage comes on a day when the victims, who came from all around the world, are being honored.
In Australia, a ceremony was held in the Great Hall at Parliament House.
Commemorations also are taking place in the Netherlands, home to the majority of the people on board Flight 17. The plane, a Boeing 777, was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when it was shot down.
Poroshenko also paid respects to the victims and their relatives in a video message Friday.
“Today, our people recall this tragedy and share the grief and sorrow of the families who lost their loved ones,” he said. – CNN