Daesh claims downing Russian airliner in Sinai
The affiliate of the Daesh group affiliate in Egypt has claimed that it downed the Russian charter plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.
The Daesh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State) affiliate, which is waging a deadly insurgency in the Sinai, claimed that “the soldiers of the caliphate succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane” there, without saying how.
It said this was in revenge for Russian air strikes against militants in Syria, where Daesh controls territories that straddle Iraq.
Three military experts said the Daesh in Sinai does not have surface-to-air missiles capable of hitting a plane at high altitude.
But they could not exclude the possibility of a bomb on board or a surface-to-air missile strike if the plane had descended for an emergency landing.
A senior Egyptian aviation official said the Airbus A-321 plane was flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet when communication was lost. An Egyptian aviation official said the pilot had reported technical difficulties before losing contact with air traffic controllers, but there has been no official word on the cause of the crash.
Flight 9268, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia, was flying from the Sinai Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg in Russia when it went down in a desolate mountainous area of central Sinai soon after daybreak, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said.
It took off at 5:51 a.m. Cairo time (0351 GMT) and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes later, the ministry said in a statement.
The plane — with 214 Russian and three Ukranian passengers, and seven crew — was completely destroyed and Egyptian security and medical officials said there were no survivors, and that the bodies of the passengers and debris were spread out over an area of five square kilometers (two square miles).
The Russian embassy in Cairo said: “Unfortunately, all passengers of Kogalymavia flight 9268 Sharm el-Sheikh-Saint Petersburg have died. We issue condolences to family and friends.”
The wreckage was found roughly 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the North Sinai town of El-Arish, Egyptian officials said.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Moscow’s emergency ministry to dispatch rescue teams to Egypt.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi and his French counterpart Francois Hollande said they had sent their condolences to Moscow.
The Russian emergency ministry published a list of names of the passengers, ranging in age from a 10-month-old girl to a 77-year-old woman.
At Saint Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport, anxious family members awaited news of their loved ones.
“I am meeting my parents,” said 25-year-old woman, Ella Smirnova, seemingly in shock. “I spoke to them last on the phone when they were already on the plane, and then I heard the news.”
“I will keep hoping until the end that they are alive, but perhaps I will never see them again.”
Dismal air safety record
Kogalymavia, which operates under the name Metrojet, says it has two A320 planes and seven A321s, and that it transported 779,626 passengers in the first nine months of 2015, according to the Russian aviation agency Rosaviatsia.
Russia has a dismal air safety record, with charter operators often under pressure to book to capacity on ageing jets in a bid to cut costs.
Kogalymavia is a small regional carrier that flies mostly international charter services.
No representative of the airline could be found at the airport in Saint Petersburg and nobody at the company was answering the phones.
Russia’s regional airlines are notorious, and the crash is likely to raise renewed concerns about the safety of air travel in a country where experts have sounded the alarm over the ageing fleet of passenger jets.
The last major airliner crash in Egypt happened in 2004, when a Flash Airlines Boeing 737 plunged into the Red Sea after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh.
The 148 people on board, most of whom were French, were killed.
Millions of tourists, many of them Russian, visit the resort, one of Egypt’s major attractions for holidaymakers looking for pristine beaches and scuba diving.
It and other resorts dotting the Red Sea coast are heavily secured by the military and police, as an Islamist militant insurgency rages in the north of the peninsula, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Militants in the north who pledged allegiance to the Daesh group have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen since the army ousted Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.