A pro-Russian rebel separatist in Ukraine claimed Saturday that most of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 were dead before the plane was shot down.
According to the Associated Press, rebel commander Igor Girkin said on the Russkaya Vesna website that witnesses to the crash have informed him that “a significant number of the bodies weren’t fresh” when they fell from the sky. He also claimed that many of them had been drained of blood and stank of decomposition because they had been dead for days.
Many Putin allies — including news network Russia Today — have tried to offset the blame for the deaths of all 298 passengers and crew by blaming Ukraine, but Girkin’s assertion is the first to suggest that no one was actually killed in the incident.
Preliminary investigation of the crash indicates that the jet was shot from the sky with a sophisticated surface-to-air anti-aircraft weapon. Both President Barack Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power have said that it is highly unlikely that separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine could have shot down the plane without a great deal of assistance from Russia.
Girkin, who also goes by the name Strelkov, said that he has yet to confirm the assertion, but that Ukrainian officials are “capable of any baseness.”
At the scene, he said, large amounts of blood serum and medications were found. Girkin may or may not have realized that the plane was carrying approximately 100 doctors, researchers and experts on HIV-AIDS who were bound for an international conference in Malaysia.
If the rebel leader’s assertion sounds like a plot twist from a particularly far-fetched spy film, that’s because it was. In an episode of the U.K. TV series “Sherlock,” an airplane loaded with corpses was brought down from the sky in order to convince a group of saboteurs that their encryption codes had not been cracked by the government.
Where Girkin believes the Ukrainian government obtained nearly 300 corpses is unclear, let alone how officials managed to dress the bodies and provide them with passports and travel information.