Egypt, Russia reject bomb claim over crashed plane
Egypt and Russia on Thursday rejected claims that a bomb has brought down a Russian passenger plane that crashed on Saturday.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister said investigators have found no evidence so far that an explosion on board brought down the jet.
“The investigation team does not have yet any evidence or data confirming this hypothesis,” Hossam Kamal said in a statement, adding that Egypt adheres to international security and safety standards at all its airports.
The statement said that flights were continuing to arrive in Sharm al-Sheikh airport, with 23 set to land on Thursday from Russia, eight from Ukraine, three from Italy and two from Saudi Arabia, in addition to 22 domestic arrivals.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron that his country is “completely ready” to work together with its partners to protect foreign tourists.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin dismissed any claims over the cause of the passenger jet crash in Egypt as “speculation” after Britain and the U.S. said a bomb may have downed the plane.
“Any sort of version of what happened and the reasons for what happened can only be put forward by the investigation and we have not heard any announcements from the investigation yet,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
“Any other proposed explanations seem like unverified information or some sort of speculation.”
Peskov said that Moscow “cannot rule out any version” of what might have caused the crash but said no definitive explanation had been presented.
Britain and Ireland have temporarily suspended flights to and from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the plane took off from on Saturday bound for Saint Petersburg before crashing minutes later, killing all 224 people on board.
Peskov said that it was Britain’s “sovereign right to fly or not fly somewhere” but said that “Russian planes are continuing to fly.”
Egypt said on Thursday Britain suspended flights from Sharm al-Sheikh airport without consultation, despite close contacts between the two countries and tighter security measures.
“The British decision was taken unilaterally and there were no consultations with Egypt over it despite the high-level contacts that took place between the two countries hours before,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on state news agency MENA.
ISIS could be behind crash
U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on Thursday evidence so far indicates there was an ISIS bomb attack on the Russian passenger plane.
McCaul acknowledged another theory – that the plane’s tail had been worked on several years ago and may have broken off or otherwise failed – had not been ruled out.
“But I think the more likely scenario where all indicators seem to be pointing, is that this was an ISIS attack with an explosive device in the airplane,” McCaul told Fox News, using a common acronym for the militant group.
A U.S. official also told AFP that the possibility that a bomb may have caused the plane crash on Saturday was “a highly possible scenario.”
ISIS jihadist group claims it caused the disaster.
Britain said on Thursday there was a significant possibility that ISIS’s Egyptian affiliate was behind the suspected bomb attack on a Russian airliner.
The topic is sensitive for Russia, whose warplanes have launched raids against ISIS in Syria, and for Egypt, which depends heavily on revenues from tourism.
Asked if he thought ISIS was responsible for the disaster, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “ISIL-Sinai have claimed responsibility for bringing down the Russian aircraft, they did that straight away after the crash.
“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,” he said on Sky television.
Cameron’s office also said that authorities had “become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.”
Russia has dispatched investigators to the crash site in the restive Sinai peninsula to help the Egypt-led probe into the tragedy.
Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said Thursday that the first recording from the black box on-board data collectors had been “received” by experts, news agencies reported.
Sokolov also said that Russia had sent Egyptian aviation authorities a proposal to conduct an “additional audit” into air safety measures in the country.
Meanwhile the first funerals of those killed in the crash were taking place in Russia on Thursday, with relatives and friends gathering to mourn their loved ones.
Russia wants foreign planes to re-register
Russia’s airline regulator said on Thursday it was suspending the flying certificates for foreign planes operated by Russian airlines because it wanted them to be re-registered on home soil, RIA news agency reported.
The crashed plane was an Airbus A321 airliner registered in Ireland but operated by a Russian firm.
Meanwhile, the head of Sharm el-Sheikh airport has been replaced amid growing international concern.
Adel Mahgoub, chairman of the state company that runs Egypt’s civilian airports, says airport chief Abdel-Wahab Ali has been “promoted” to become his assistant. He said the move late Wednesday had nothing to do with media skepticism surrounding the airport’s security.
Mahgoub said Ali is being replaced by Emad el-Balasi, a pilot.