Pro-Russia Rebels' Deleted Social Media Posts Suggest Responsibility for Downing Plane

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 17 2014 8:12 PM

Pro-Russia Rebels' Deleted Social Media Posts Suggest Responsibility for Downing Plane

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Pro-Russia fighters in Slavyansk, Ukraine on April 13, 2014.

Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images

Social media being what it is—fickle and easily manipulatable—this is certainly not definitive proof of who is responsible for shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine on Thursday, but now deleted social media posts by pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine posted in the immediate aftermath of the incident suggest the “rebels thought they had shot down a Ukrainian army plane before realizing in horror that it was in fact a packed Malaysian airliner,” Agence France Presse reports.

Here’s a sampling of the incriminating posts via AFP:

The VK social networking page of Igor Strelkov -- "defence minister" of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic -- first announced: "We just downed an An-26 near (the town of) Torez." "And here is a video confirming that a 'bird fell'," said the post.
'We have seized missiles.' The VK post was soon removed -- but not before its screen grab was captured... The comments attributed to Strelkov did not identify what missile was used to down the craft at what Kiev said was an altitude of 10,000 metres (33,000 feet). But a message on the official Twitter account of the Donetsk People's Republic had announced hours earlier that insurgents had seized a series of Russian-made Buk systems capable of soaring to that height."@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. That tweet was later deleted as well.
The strongly pro-Kiev Ukrainska Pravda news site later posted an audio recording of what it claimed were the intercepted field communications between rebels and a Russian agent discussing the downing. "We just downed a plane," a rebel the recording identifies as Bes (Demon) tells an alleged Russian military intelligency officer. Another recording shows one alleged fighter reporting from the site of the plane's remains that it was "100 percent certain this is a civilian aircraft." He spits out a Russian expletive when asked whether there were a lot of passengers on board.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.