IS-affiliate may have downed Russian plane, says British Foreign Secretary

Friday 06-11-2015 01:45 PM
IS-affiliate may have downed Russian plane, says British Foreign Secretary

The remains of a Russian airliner which crashed is seen in central Sinai near El Arish city, north Egypt, October 31, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer


CAIRO, Nov. 5 (Aswat Masriya) – In comments to Sky News Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said there is a "significant possibility" an IS affiliate downed the Russian passenger plane that crashed in Sinai Saturday.

"We've looked at the whole information picture, including that claim, but of course lots of other bits of information as well, and concluded that there is a significant possibility," said Hammond, speaking to Sky's Eamonn Holmes.

In what Egypt described as a “premature” decision Wednesday, the British government suspended all flights heading back and forth from Sharm el-Sheikh to the UK citing a "significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft.”

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond advised, in a statement, “against all but essential travel by air to Sharm el-Sheikh.”

There are currently a total of 20,000 British tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh. Hammond told Sky News he believes "emergency measures to repatriate British tourists stranded in Sharm el Sheikh should be in place from tomorrow, after UK aviation experts identified serious security flaws at the city's airport."

The UK sent aviation experts to the Sinai resort “to make an assessment of the security arrangements in place at the airport and to identify whether any further action is required," said a separate statement by the British Prime Minister's spokesman.

Reacting to the UK statement about the existence of a bomb on board the flight, Egypt’s Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal said in a press release Thursday that Egypt implements all the international security and safety standards in all it’s airports.

Kamal disputed the theory that an explosive device on board the flight was behind crash, saying that there is no evidence so far to support this claim.

According to a report by government-affiliated Sputnik news, Kremlin  spokesman Dmitri Peskov has demanded that the UK provide data to support recent statements that the plane was likely caused by a terrorist attack.

"If there is any serious data, we certainly hope that whoever possesses this data will provide it to the investigation," Peskov told reporters.

Developments coincided with an audio release by North Sinai-based militant group Sinai Province (also known as Ansar Beit El Maqdis) insisting they were behind the crash and challenging investigators to prove that they did not do it.

The speaker in the audio, which Aswat Masriya could not independently verify, said that the downing of the plane marks the one-year anniversary of pledging allegiance to Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.

On Saturday Oct. 31, an Airbus A321 operated by a Russian airline disappeared from the radar at 31,000 feet 23 minutes after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport heading to St. Petersburg.

The plane, which preliminary investigations show was destroyed midair, was carrying 224 crew members and passengers, mainly Russian holiday makers and four Ukrainians, none of whom survived.

Hours after the crash, the Sinai-based militant group claimed responsibility for the incident in a statement that circulated on social media. The claim was initially dismissed locally and internationally as the possibility of using a surface-to-air missiles at such an altitude seemed improbable.

Global intelligence firm Stratfor in an online report published Nov. 2, said that the "most probable explanation for the downed plane is the existence of an explosive device on board."

Stratfor cited the "poor" state of security that Sharm el-Sheikh airport, where the plane took off, is known for.

The director of U.S. National Intelligence, James Clapper, told a conference on Monday that there was no "direct" evidence of terrorist involvement yet, a NBC news video showed. 

Following the plane crash Russian and Egyptian officials headed to the site to recover the bodies and start investigation on the circumstances of the incident.

The black boxes were recovered on the day of the crash and the contents of the flight recorders are currently being analysed.

Egypt’s aviation ministry said Wednesday that the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) is “partially damaged and a lot of work is required to extract the data from it.”

As for the flight data recorder, the ministry has stated that data from it has been “extracted and validated.”

An initial reading of the contents showed that "uncharacteristic sounds" were heard in the cockpit at the time of the plane's disappearance, Russian Interfax news agency said. 

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