Ukraine accuses rebels of looting crash site; Malaysian officials arrive in Kiev

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) — Ukraine accused rebels of looting jewelry, credit cards and money Saturday from the crash site of a passenger jet that went down in the nation’s east.

The United States said a surface-to-air missile, possibly fired by pro-Russian rebels, took down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday.

The plane, which had 298 aboard, was traveling from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in UkraineMalaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

 Map: Approximate route of MH17Map: Approximate route of MH17
Wreckage thought to be from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 lies in Ukraine on Thursday. This image was posted to Twitter.
Wreckage thought to be from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 lies in Ukraine on Thursday. This image was posted to Twitter.

The government in Kiev said it received information of looting of various items, including money and jewelry, and urged relatives to cancel the victims’ credit cards.

But a CNN crew at the scene Saturday said it did not see any signs of looting or the rebels rummaging through items at the crash site. Pro-Russian rebels have been lurking around the site since the plane crashed.

An international organization at the scene Friday said it appears that the bodies have not been tampered with.

As the Ukraine government pointed fingers at the rebels, investigators worked to get access to the site.

Malaysian investigators touched down in Kiev on Saturday to try to get the bottom of what happened to the jetliner.

But it’s uncertain whether they will make it to the crash site in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, Malaysia’s official news agency Bernama reported.

They’re still negotiating with pro-Russian rebels over access for their 131-member team.

No one in control

The rebel leaders have been down this road before.

On Thursday, the day the plane tore apart in the sky over Torez, they granted passage to a smaller international team of 21 people from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

But when the OSCE team arrived among the rubble, armed local militiamen greeted them with hostility and throttled their access to the site.

“There didn’t seem to be anyone really in control,” OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said.

Armed men, apparently pro-Russia militants, loosely guarded the area but couldn’t answer the monitors’ questions, he said.

Many of the victims were on vacation

Bociurkiw said the group only stayed about 75 minutes and examined about 200 meters at the scene before being forced to leave. Pieces of the airplane and bodies are spread over several kilometers.

U.S. worries

The United States says a surface-to-air missile, possibly fired by the militants, took down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday as the plane traveled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Eighty of the victims were children, the United nations said.

Lack of access to the crash site worries U.S. officials, including Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, who tweeted: “Monitors should be able to access the crash site of MH17. US is deeply concerned by reports that separatists are denying access.”

Bociurkiw said the investigation will be difficult because the plane crashed in a difficult-to-access area in the countryside with no electricity.

“I don’t think too much of the crime scene has been compromised already,” Bociurkiw said. “The bodies are still there. They have not been tampered with. We actually spoke to some civilian emergency workers. They said their job was just to mark where the bodies are.”

The FBI is sending two investigators to work on the case, a U.S. law enforcement official said, but the Ukraine government will be in charge of the investigation.

Australia anger at Russia

Australia is sending six foreign affairs officers to Kiev to assist in the investigation and plans to deploy an emergency response team, the country’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Saturday.

The country lost at least 27 of its citizens in the crash.

The Kremlin has criticized Abbott over his harsh words on possible Russian involvement in the tragedy, and he repeated them Saturday.

“Australia takes a very dim view of countries which facilitate killing of Australians, as you’d expect us to. We take a very, very dim view of this and the idea that Russia can wash its hands of responsibility, because this happened in Ukrainian airspace, just does not stand serious scrutiny,” Abbott said.

Both he and Obama focused on the importance of finding MH17’s flight recorders.

Their location has not been determined. Initially, Ukrainian officials said they were in rebel hands or had been taken to Russia, but later said they are on Ukrainian soil.

Obama’s focus on Russia

Russia likely bears some of the responsibility for the apparent downing of Flight 17, U.S. President Barack Obama said.

In the administration’s strongest words yet on the downing of the jet, Obama said rebel fighters couldn’t have operated the surface-to-air missile believed responsible for the shootdown “without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training, and that is coming from Russia.”

He and other U.S. officials stopped short of publicly placing the responsibility on Russia, which has denied involvement in the destruction of the jetliner.

But a senior defense official told CNN that the “working theory” among U.S. intelligence analysts is that the Russian military supplied the Buk missile system to rebel fighters inside Ukraine.

The United States believes pro-Russian separatists could not have operated it without Russian training.

Incriminating recording

Among the evidence cited by U.S. officials and others for their conclusions was an audio recording released by Ukrainian intelligence officials that purportedly featured pro-Russian rebels and Russian military officers discussing a surface-to-air strike.

“How are things going there,” a man identified as a Russian intelligence agent asks.

“Well, we are 100% sure that it was a civilian plane,” a man identified as a pro-Russian fighter responds.

“Are there a lot of people?” the Russian officer asks.

The rebel fighter then utters an obscenity and says, “The debris was falling straight into the yards.”

CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of this audio, or other similar recordings.

Ukraine’s Interfax news agency reported claims by an adviser to Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Geraschenko that the launcher was handed over to Russian agents across the border at a checkpoint in the Luhansk area overnight.

A senior Ukrainian official who spoke to CNN also accused Russia of carrying out a cover-up of its role in the shoot-down.

He cited video showing a Buk launcher being moved toward Russia overnight.

CNN could not independently confirm the claims.

Russia-Ukraine dispute

Tensions have been high between Ukraine and Russia since street protests forced former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February. Russia subsequently annexed Ukraine’s southeastern Crimea region, and a pro-Russian separatist rebellion has been raging in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Ukraine has accused Russia of allowing weapons and military equipment, including tanks, to cross the border illegally into the hands of pro-Russian rebels.


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