Global security after the Russian jetliner crash
It is all but certain that terrorists were behind the crash of Russia’s Metrojet flight 9268, which departed Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on October 31st. The crash of the A321 passenger plane caused the death of all 224 people aboard.
In video, audio and written messages, the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organisation claimed responsibility for downing the Russian plane. It even celebrated the killing of Russian tourists as a “healing of the soul” and called the civilian victims of the Metrojet flight “crusader Russians”.
It will take a longer investigation to identify the exact parties behind this atrocity but the mere bragging by ISIS about carrying out the bombing reflects a willingness to, at least, condone the mass murder of innocent civilians. More disturbingly, it suggests that taking responsibility for such heinous acts serves as a recruiting tool for ISIS. The boast of responsibility reconfirms the hostility of ISIS and other Salafist jihadist groups towards modern civilisation. Travel and tourism are particularly targeted because they serve as a bridge between nations, across cultures and faiths. Such contact threatens the religious extremists’ vision of a society they want to see imposed, not only on Muslim populations but on all humanity.
At a time when the global travel industry was starting to recover from the disruptive effects of 9/11, and millions of tourists were once again exploring other cultures and society, we are faced with an unexpected dramatic twist that could change travel as we know it. The precautionary refusal by airlines to carry luggage in the holds of flights from Sharm el-Sheikh could be a harbinger of stringent restrictions to come on international travel.
The Sharm el-Sheikh tragedy will be a serious blow to Egypt’s tourism industry, the way Tunisia’s tourist sector suffered after the June attack against the Sousse beach resort. Egyptian authorities were banking on the continued recovery of the tourism sector this year towards its 2010 level of 14.7 million arrivals. Tourism constitutes 11% of Egypt’s gross domestic product, employs 11.5% of its workforce and ensures about 20% of hard currency revenues. Economic failure and chaos in Egypt, the most populous of Arab countries, is definitely not a scenario the region can afford.
It is virtually impossible to predict and much less prevent every terrorism act but the Sharm el-Sheikh crash raises questions about the quality of intelligence information exchanged between Arab and Western nations.
Cairo seems to have been caught unaware of the available information that motivated Western countries’ decisions concerning travel to Egypt. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, replying to the misgivings expressed by his Egyptian counterpart regarding London’s decision to repatriate its nationals, said, “I recognise his concern but with respect to him he hasn’t seen all the information we have.” Maybe he should have had.
Fighting an unprecedented global security threat such as that of ISIS will require more intelligence sharing and better security cooperation to ensure the safety of all, including tourists. The tragic crash of the Metrojet flight puts that point beyond any doubt.