Hand grenade fragments were found in the bodies of victims in Prigozhin’s plane crash, Putin claims

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that hand grenade fragments were found in the bodies of people who died in the Aug. 23 crash of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane.

Experts investigating the crash found no indication the private jet had suffered an “external impact,” he said. Prigozhin and two of his top lieutenants of the Wagner private military contractor were among the 10 people killed when the jet came down as it flew from Moscow to St. Petersburgh.

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There was no way to independently verify Putin’s statement.

A preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment concluded that an intentional explosion caused the crash, and Western officials have pointed to a long list of Putin foes who have been assassinated. The Kremlin called allegations he was behind the crash as an “absolute lie.”

A Russian investigation was launched but no findings have been released.

While Putin noted the probe was still ongoing and stopped short of saying what caused the crash, his statement appeared to hint the plane was brought down by a grenade explosion.

Prigozhin’s aborted rebellion in June marked the most serious challenge to Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades. The crash came two months to the day after the rebellion’s start.

Putin also noted that while investigators haven’t tested the remains for alcohol and drugs, 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine was found during searches at Prigozhin’s office in St. Petersburg following the mutiny — an apparent attempt to denigrate the mercenary chief.

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