HRABOVE Ukraine - The United States believes a surface-to-air missile brought down a Malaysian airliner that crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 298 people on board, an incident that sharply raises the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels.
One US official said Washington strongly suspected the missile that downed the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was fired by Ukrainian separatists backed by Moscow.
There is no evidence Ukrainian government forces fired a missile, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. A second US official said the origin of the missile was unclear. US Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Detroit, said the passenger jet apparently was "blown out of the sky".
Ukraine accused pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian military intelligence officers, of firing a long-range, Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile. Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic denied any involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the intercontinental flight.
Russian President Vladimir Putin - at loggerheads with the West over his policies toward Ukraine - pinned the blame on Kiev for renewing its offensive against rebels two weeks ago after a ceasefire failed to hold. The Kremlin leader called it a "tragedy" but did not say who brought the Boeing down.
The loss of MH-17 is the second disaster for Malaysia Airlines this year, following the mysterious loss of flight MH-370 in March, which disappeared with 239 passengers and crew on board on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
"If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told a pre-dawn news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
"This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic year, for Malaysia."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who had stepped up an offensive in the east, spoke to US President Barack Obama and sought to rally world opinion behind his cause. "The external aggression against Ukraine is not just our problem but a threat to European and global security," he said in a statement.