First flight to bring home Russian tourists leaves Moscow to Egypt's Sharm

Menna Alaa El-Din, Friday 6 Nov 2015

The flight comes hours after Moscow ordered all Russian passenger flights to & from Egyptian airports suspended due to security concerns; head of Egypt's probe into the crash of the Russian airliner to speak to press Saturday

Minutes before Moscow suspends all Russian flights to Egypt, Passengers stand in a line to get registered for the flight ZF 9785 of Azur Air from Domodedovo airport to Sharm al-Sheikh, Moscow, Russia, November 6, 2015 (Reuters)

An empty Aeroflot plane left Moscow for Egypt on Friday evening, on its way to bring back Russian holidaymakers who are stranded in Sharm El-Sheikh following the suspension of flights to Russia, Interfax reported.

Earlier on Friday President Vladimir Putin ordered the suspension of all Russian passenger flights to Egypt following a recommendation by the head of Russian FSB security service to do so until the exact cause behind the Russian plane crash in Sinai on Saturday was known.

Putin has also ordered the Russian government to draft a mechanism that would bring Russians back home, as well as to open talks with Egyptian authorities on guarantees for flight safety.

On Friday afternoon, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abo Zeid told Ahram Online that the ministry has no comment on the Russian suspension of flights."We are currently trying to confirm the news," he had said.

On Saturday, a Russian-owned Airbus A321 crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, shortly after taking off from Sharm El-Sheikh airport. All 224 people on board were killed.

Egypt- along with Russia- immediately opened an investigation into the causes of the deadly crash. For several days, both countries cautioned against any rush to judgement that the crash resulted from a terrorist attack.

Egyptian and Russian experts have been examining the contents of the two black boxes, which were retrieved shortly after the crash, in order to find clues.

The Kremlin has said that is is too early to say what caused the crash and that all theories, including the possibility of technical failure, should be examined. Egypt has also insisted that it is too early to conclude a bomb blast had brought down the plane, as some observers suggested.

As the investigation continues, a number of countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, the UAE and Turkey, either re-routed flights over Sinai or suspended their flights into Sharm altogether on a temporary basis pending investigations.

On Friday night, the chairman of the Egyptian-led probe into the Russian plane crash in Sinai will hold a press conference in Cairo on Saturday at 1500 GMT, state TV said. He will be joined by the civil aviation minister, the statement said.

Earlier on Friday evening, Reuters quoted intelligence sources saying that British and US spies intercepted "chatter" from suspected militants and from one or more governments involved in the investigation.

At least one of the governments involved in the alleged ''chatter'' suggested that a bomb, possibly hidden in the hold, downed the Russian airliner.

An analysis of black boxes from the plane do point to a bomb attack, sources close to the probe said Friday. The flight data and voice recorders showed that "everything was normal" until both failed at 24 minutes after takeoff, pointing to "a very sudden explosive decompression," one source told French media.

The data "strongly favours" the theory that a bomb on board had brought down the plane, he added.

The Islamist militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which has been waging deadly attacks against the Egyptian army in Sinai for several years, claimed responsibility for the crash on Saturday. The claims were dismissed by both Cairo and Moscow.

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