Russian-backed separatist leader Igor Girkin [who also goes by the name of Strelkov] has claimed credit for shooting down Malaysia Airlines MH17. The plane went down over eastern Ukraine near the border of Russia. It took off from Amsterdam and was headed to Kuala Lumpur.
"The plane has just been taken down somewhere around Torez [Donetsk Oblast]. It lays there behind the Progress mine. We did warn you – do not fly in our sky." he said through his account on VK, the Russian version of Facebook. The Progress mine refers to the mining town of about 80,000 people.
"And here is the video proving another ‘bird’ falling down. The bird went down behind the slagheap, not in the residential district. So no peaceful people injured. There is also information about another plane shot." he added.
Stelkov and his group, the Donetsk People’s Army, apparently mistook the plane for a Ukrainian army plane. The Donetsk People’s Republic had boasted on June 29 that they took over a Ukrainian military base that had Buk ground-to-air missiles, but wouldn’t say how many, reported the Kyiv Post.
The Buk missiles can travel up to 25 kilometers [15 miles], three times the altitude MH17 was flying.
Other sources are reporting that the rebels are denying that they are responsible.
"This could happen only if it was a fighter jet or a surface-to-air missile [that shot it down]." one rebel, who gave his name as Sergei, told Reuters, adding that the rebels don’t have weapons capable of shooting down a plane at such a height. But Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor at Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, says that he caught a photograph on the ground just minutes after the Buk missile was fired.
Strelkov, the leader of the Donetsk People’s Army, works for the Russian military agency GRU, according to BBC, citing the Ukrainian security service. Russian media says that he is a retired officer of the Russian Federal Security Service. He was born in 1970 and is a registered citizen of Moscow. He has been active in the region for decades. His group has combat experience fighting for the Russian armed forces in Chechnya, Central Asia, Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Syria, he told Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. He himself took part in conflicts in Yugoslavia.
"He is also said to be a military enthusiast who specializes in historical re-enactment and staged recreations of battles." it reported.
A Girkin Facebook group, which appears to be filled with fans of the commander, has the following slogan: "We have defeated the nazis, we will defeat the neo-nazis."
In it, group members post stories about Strelkov’s recent success in Ukraine.