A social media site attributed to a top Ukrainian rebel commander said the insurgents had shot down an army transporter at the location where a Malaysia Airlines plane crashed Thursday near the Russian border.
The comments by the top military commander of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” suggest the separatists shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane by mistake, believing it was a large Ukrainian army transport plane.
“We just downed an An-26 near Torez. It is down near the Progress mine,” said the VK page attributed to Igor Strelkov, which is frequently quoted by Ukrainian media.
The rebels shot down another An-26 in rebel-held eastern Ukraine on June 14, killing 49 government servicemen.
The website did not identify the weapon used to down the plane, which Ukrainian officials said had been flying at an altitude of about 10,000 metres (33,000 feet).
But a post on the official Twitter account of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” – later removed – claimed that the separatists earlier on Thursday had seized a missile system called Buk from the Ukrainian army capable of downing a jet at that altitude.
Watch: Debris strewn crash site of Malaysian airline MH17 in Eastern Ukraine
“dnrpress: self-propelled Buk surface-to-air missile systems have been seized by the DNR from [Ukrainian] surface-to-air missile regiment A1402,” said the post.
The Buk system’s Russian maker, Almaz-Altey, says the missile can hit targets at an altitude of up to 25 kilometres.
The post attributed to Strelkov notes that separatist fighters “had warned [the Ukrainian armed forces] not to fly in ‘our sky’.”
“And here is a video confirming that a ‘bird fell’,” said the post.
The website then provides a link that is identical to that published by Ukrainian media in reports about the Malaysia Airlines jet.
The video shows locals referring to the Progress coal mine mentioned by Strelkov.
Watch: Aftermath of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 disaster in Eastern Ukraine