WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama said Friday that a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine was to blame for the "unspeakable" downing of a Malaysian airliner carrying nearly 300 people.
Obama said the disaster was a "wake-up" call for European nations that have been wary of toughening sanctions against Russia over its role in Ukraine and revealed that one American was among the dead in the disaster.
He also demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin act to control pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine, and said they would not have been able to hit an airliner flying at 30,000 feet without Russian equipment and training.
In his most extensive comments on Thursday's tragedy to date, Obama mourned the men, women, children and infants who died when the plane was brought down en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
"Their deaths are an outrage of unspeakable proportions," Obama said, bemoaning the fact that those killed had nothing to do with the battle in Ukraine between the Western-backed government in Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels.
"Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine," Obama said.
Earlier, a US intelligence official told AFP that there were indications from satellite and other data that separatists shot down the Boeing-777, but said no final conclusion had been drawn.
Obama called for an immediate ceasefire that he said separatist forces must honor and warned evidence at the crash site must not be tampered with.
"No one can deny the truth that is revealed in the awful images that we all have seen, and the eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out," said the president, speaking in the White House briefing room.
- 'Wake-up call' -
Obama blamed Russia and President Vladimir Putin for creating the instability that led to the jet being shot down.
"We want Russia to take the path that would result in peace in Ukraine, but so far, at least, Russia has failed to take that path," he said.
The US leader, who significantly strengthened US sanctions on Russia on Wednesday over Ukraine, also hiked pressure on Europe to toughen its punishments, which so far have been less sweeping than those imposed by Washington.
"I think that this certainly will be a wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine," Obama said.
The president said that one American was now known to have died on the plane, naming him as Quinn Lucas Schansman, a dual Dutch-US citizen.
The Netherlands lost at least 173 citizens on the plane, and Obama offered his deep sympathies to a valued US ally.
The UN Security Council demanded a full, independent and international investigation into the shooting down of the jet that killed all 298 people on board.
The US envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said that the perpetrators of the attack "must be brought to justice."
"They must not be sheltered by any member state of the United Nations," Power said, in a clear reference to Russia.
She also said that separatists could not operate the SA-11 missile Washington suspects of bringing down the plane without technical expertise, meaning that Russian technical assistance to the rebels could not be ruled out.
Obama said Washington had "confidence" that the "shot was taken (in) territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists.
"A group of separatists can't shoot down military transport planes, or they claim, shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training, and that is coming from Russia."