Russian plane crash: US intelligence suggests bomb was planted by Islamic State as Britain suspends Sharm el-Sheikh flights
Summary of the day’s events
Raf Sanchez in Cairo and Colin Freeman
The credibility of the Russian and Egyptian probes into last weekend’s Sharm el-Sheikh air disaster was questioned Wednesday after Britain said that the plane could have brought down by a bomb.
Ever since the Russian Metrojet airliner disintegrated in mid-air five days ago, both Moscow and Cairo have cast doubts on speculation that it could have been a terrorist attack.
But yesterday evening, Downing Street abruptly ordered the suspension of all further flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to Britain, saying that it believed a bomb might have been involved after all.
“While the investigation is still ongoing we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed,” a Downing Street spokesman said. “But as more information has come to light, we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.”
The announcement was followed by reports that US intelligence believed the plane had been brought down by a bomb.
The unexpected announcements left thousands of British tourists stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh until further notice, while a team of British aviation security experts who were despatched to the resort last night complete an assessment of security arrangements at the airport.
But it is also contradicts the working assumptions of officials in both Russia and Egypt, who have maintained up until now that there is no evidence to suggest foul play.
When flight 7K9268 first crashed on Saturday, claiming 224 lives, both government suggested the aircraft had been brought down by a technical fault. However, critics say that both governments’ stance reflects a degree of self-interest.
Russia is anxious that a terrorist attack could be a response by the Islamic State to its recent bombing campaign against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Egypt, meanwhile, knows that terrorist involvement could scare away foreign holidaymakers from Sharm el-Sheikh, one of its few thriving tourist resorts four years on from the Arab Spring.
Downing Street declined to comment in detail on the reasons why it now suspected that a bomb could have been planted on the plane.
But Wednesday’s statement follows a conversation between the prime minister, David Cameron, and Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the Eygptian president.
Mr Sisi, who is due to make an official visit to Downing Street today as part of a three-day visit, is believed to have discussed the progress of the plane crash investigation with Mr Cameron. However, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph published yesterday, Mr Sisi had said that making any further comment on the cause of the crash would be “premature and not based on any proper facts”. Earlier, he had gone even further than that, telling the BBC that claims that the flight had been brought down by the Islamic State (Isil) were “false propaganda”. The head of Russia’s Federal Aviation Agency, Aleksandr Neradko, has taken a similar line, saying that such talk was “not based on any proper facts”. Downing Street convened a Cobra emergency committee to discuss the issue, a sign that it was being dealt with at the very highest level. “We would underline that this is a precautionary step and we are working closely with the airlines on this approach,” the spokesman added. “We recognise that this information may cause concern for those in Sharm and indeed for those planning to travel to Sharm in the coming days.
Cameron’s announcement will infuriate Putin
Peter Foster, the Telegraph’s Europe Editor, says David Cameron’s announcement this afternoon that Downing Street believed a bomb brought down the MetroJet plane will not be warmly recieved in Moscow.
David Cameron’s decision to intervene in the mystery of the Sinai air crash by speculating that a bomb may have bought down Flight 7K9268 will have been greeted with cold fury in the Kremlin.
For the last five days, leaders in Moscow and Cairo have been adamant that the jet’s downing last weekend was an accident – possibly the result of a catastrophic engine failure – but it is safe to assume that Downing Street did not speculate about “explosive devices” lightly.