A surface-to-air missile struck a Malaysia Airlines plane with 298 people that crashed Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border in a disaster the president of the crisis-torn country called an "act of terrorism."
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 bound for Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam was shot down at cruising altitude about 35 miles from the border, according to Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Minister.
But it wasn't immediately clear whether the missile was fired from inside Ukrainian or Russian territory – and who fired it.
All passengers, including three infants, and crew members were killed.
A Reuters correspondent near the scene reported seeing burning wreckage and bodies strewn across a nine-mile debris field. A Ukrainian Emergency official told the news agency body parts and at least 100 bodies were seen in the area.
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Speaking in Detroit, Vice President Joe Biden said the plane had "been shot down, not an accident. Blown out of the sky."
"We see reports that there may have been American citizens on board," he added.
"Obviously, that’s our first concern. We’re working every minute to try to confirm those reports as I speak."
But ABC reported it remains unclear if Americans were aboard
Officials said 154 passengers were Dutch, ABC News reported. In addition, according to the latest numbers released by the airline, 43 were Malaysian, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 9 British, 4 Belgians, 4 Germans, 3 Filipinos and 1 Canadian. Nationalities of 41 other passengers remain unknown at this time.
Fox News reported the flight manifest for the Boeing 777 reportedly included the names of 23 Americans
, though State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing Thursday, "we don't have any additional details at this point on American citizens" aboard the plane.
"Obviously, we're seeking that information as we speak," Psaki said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared his nation was "not calling it an accident, or a disaster, but an act of terrorism."
In a tweet soon after the plane went down, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "Condolences to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in connection with the crash of a passenger aircraft in Ukraine."
But a Kremlin statement said Putin opened a meeting with his economic advisers by calling for a moment of silence over the crash – and then suggested the blame lay with Ukraine.
"This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine," he said. "And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."
Razak said the plane did not make any distress call, and that "if it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice."
A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Kiev claimed the plane had been "shot down."
"According to the General Staff of Ukrainian Armed Forces, the airplane was shot down by the Russian Buk missile system as the liner was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters [33,000 feet]," the statement related.
"Ukraine has no long-range air defense missile systems in this area. The plane was shot down, because the Russian air defense systems was affording protection to Russian mercenaries and terrorists in this area. Ukraine will present the evidence of Russian military involvement into the Boeing crash."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko later added, "We are not calling it an accident, or a disaster, but an act of terrorism."
President Obama, at an event in Delaware, said "the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border. And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy. Right now, we're working to determine whether there were American citizens on board. That is our first priority, and I've directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government."
Obama added that the U.S. "will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why. And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Charlie Rose in a PBS interview, "the questions I’d be asking is who could have shot it down, who had the equipment — it’s obviously an anti-aircraft missile. Who had the expertise to do that?"
She noted the Ukrainian government has been quick to blame the crash on "terrorists," which is "their name for the Russian insurgents." And she siad it "probably had to be" Russian insurgents that brought the plane down, but would need forensic evidence to determine that for sure.
"If there is evidence pointing in that direction, the equipment had to come from Russia," she said. "There is a great deal of concern that, not only was a civilian plane shot down, but what this means about the continuing conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the role that Russia is playing."
If those assumptions turn out to be true, Clinton said it would be Europe’s responsibility to join the United States in imposing stronger sanctions against Russia and supporting the Ukrainians.
They must say, "Putin has gone too far and we are not going stand idly by," she said. "There should outrage in European capitals."
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An AFP journalist at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport – where the plane had taken off – said distraught family members were in tears, Fox News reported.
Separatist leader Igor Girkin boasted on Facebook at about the same time the plane went down claiming to have downed a transport plane, but the post was quickly deleted after it became clear the plane was a passenger aircraft, Fox News reported.
"In Torez An-26 was shot down, its crashes are lying somewhere near the coal mine 'Progress,'" read the tweet, obtained by FoxNews.com and translated into English. "We have warned everyone: do not fly in our skies."
Separatist groups reportedly blocked Ukrainian officials from the scene, and later said the "black box," or flight data recorder, had been sent to Moscow.
But The Associated Press reported the rebels intend to call a three-day cease-fire to allow a probe of the incident.
Retired Army Lt. Col Ralph Peters told Fox News it's unlikely the Russian military would have put missile batteries capable of knocking a plane out of the sky at such an altitude in the hands of rebels.
"It wasn't the separatists, although Russia will try to blame them, or blame the Ukrainians," Peters said. "The Russians have not given the separatists complex, high-altitude air-defense systems. If this airliner was flying at 34,000 feet or any altitude close to that, it was shot down by Russian military air-defense systems perched on the Ukrainian border."
Peters said the Russian military has been shooting down Ukrainian military aircraft in recent weeks, and most likely mistook the airliner for a Ukrainian military aircraft.
"Russia has a small number of elite forces, but most of the Russian military is ill-trained, sloppy and marginally disciplined.," he said. "With no Western response to them shooting down Ukrainian aircraft, they just got trigger happy."
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