THE HAGUE –– Dutch prosecutors said on Sunday they would "seriously study" claims by citizen journalists to have identified Russian soldiers implicated in the crash of flight MH17, shot down over Weastern Ukraine in July 2014.
The claims are made by a British-based group of "citizen investigative journalists" called Bellingcat, which specialises in trawling through data on social media and other open sources.
"We received the report just after Christmas," Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor's office, said.
"We will seriously study it and determine whether it can be used for the criminal inquiry," de Bruin said.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was downed over war-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17 2014 by a BUK surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 onboard, air crash investigators said last October.
Western nations and Ukraine say the missile was fired from pro-Russian separatist-held territory, but Moscow denies the claim, pointing the finger instead at the Ukrainian military.
The Netherlands have launched a criminal probe into those responsible for the shooting, but many experts doubt whether it will succeed.
In 2014, Bellingcat reported that a BUK mobile launcher, spotted on July 17 in an area controlled by pro-Russian rebels, came from a military convoy from Russia's 53rd anti-aircraft brigade -- a unit based in Kursk but sent on manoeuvres near the Ukrainian border.
The launcher was later filmed again, but at least one of its missiles was missing.
In an interview with the Dutch TV channel NOS on Sunday, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins said his organisation had now identified 20 soldiers in this brigade.
This is "probably" the group that either knows who fired or has that individual among its number, Higgins said.
The sources for this include photos posted on the Internet and army data about personnel deployment that was available online, NOS said.
It added that a redacted version of the report should be published "shortly."
De Bruin said Dutch prosecutors had "already been in contact" with Bellingcat in the past. –– AFP