UK, US suspect a bomb caused Russian plane crash
CAIRO - US and UK officials suggested a bomb, possibly planted by Islamic State (ISIS) militants, caused the crash of a Russian passenger jet shortly after it left the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on November 4th there was a “significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft”. US cable news outlet CNN cited an unidentified US official as saying there was “a definite feeling it was an explosive device planted in luggage or somewhere on the plane”.
The Associated Press, citing an unnamed US official, reported that “intercepted communications” led to the officials’ tentative conclusion that a bomb had been planted on the aeroplane by an ISIS affiliate.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any such allegations were “speculation” and Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal was reported as saying investigators had no “evidence or data confirming this theory”.
The United Kingdom suspended flights between Britain and Sharm el-Sheikh, although Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told CNN: “It is somewhat premature to make declarations related to what might or might not have happened to the aircraft before the investigation is completed and before there is a definitive cause for this crash.”
Metrojet flight 9268 was 23 minutes into its October 31st flight from the Egyptian resort to St Petersburg, Russia, when contact was lost and the Airbus A321-231 crashed in the Sinai peninsula. There were 217 passengers and seven crew members on board.
The plane had reached 9,400 metres in altitude, too high for a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile to reach. Metrojet official Alexander Smirnov said there was no technical problem or pilot error involved.
An Egyptian terrorist group linked to ISIS said it downed the plane. Egypt has been cracking down on the group for almost two years, killing hundreds of its members and arresting many more but reprisals indicate the group remains active.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for patience until a proper investigation, which could take up to a year, was concluded. The plane’s flight and voice recorders were being examined in Cairo.
Egypt is worried its warming ties with Moscow could be hurt by the tragedy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of few leaders outside the Arab world who backed the Egyptian army’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government in 2013. Sisi has visited Russia three times in less than two years and Cairo is also one of few foreign capitals visited by Putin this year.
Egypt plans to buy billions of dollars of air defence systems, fighter jets, attack helicopters and arms from Russia. Russia is also expected to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant in the north-west of the country. Security expert Ashraf Youssef said the plane crash would likely have little effect on relations between Cairo and Moscow.
“The two countries have very strong relations and such an accident can do nothing to shake these ties,” he said.