Egypt says reason for plane crash unconfirmed; to take Russian bomb findings into consideration

Ahram Online , Tuesday 17 Nov 2015

Russian airliner
(FILES) A file handout picture taken on November 1, 2015 and released on November 3, 2015 by Russia's Emergency Ministry shows the wreckage of a A321 Russian airliner in Wadi al-Zolomat, November 17. (AFP)

Egyptian authorities reiterated on Tuesday it was still early to unequivocally determine the reason for the Russian airliner crash, despite Russia's announcement earlier in the day that the flight that crashed in Sinai last month was definitively downed by a bomb. 

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said at a press conference that the Egyptian committee leading investigations into the crash, which killed all 224 people on board, would take into consideration any findings provided by Russian authorities.

He did, however, stress that the Egyptian committee is the only official authority with a mandate allowing it to release findings about the crash.

Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal said the committee has not yet found any proof that a "criminal act" was behind the Russian plane crash.

He stated that if evidence of foul play is found, the Egyptian prosecution would handle the case and Egypt would be the first to announce the findings of the investigators.

Kamal also said that Egypt has contacted Russia so that the latter would pass on its findings on the incident. He added that Egypt would take action if the Russian findings are deemed legitimate.

Moscow launches manhunt

Russia's security chief Alexander Bortnikov told Russian President Vladimir Putin in comments released by the Kremlin that the Russian aircraft, which took off from the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh en route to Russia's St Petersburg, was brought down by a home-made bomb containing up to 1 kilogram of TNT.

"We can unequivocally say it was a terrorist act," he said.

Militants of an ISIS-linked group battling security forces in Egypt's Sinai said they brought down the aircraft in response to Russian air strikes against Islamist fighters in Syria.

President Putin has vowed to hunt down and punish those responsible for what he described as "one of the bloodiest crimes."

"We will search for them wherever they might hide. We will find them anywhere in the world and punish them," Putin said during a meeting late on Monday with security and military chiefs.

He pledged to ratchet up Moscow's air strikes on Islamist militants in Syria, which began in late September.

Russian media said the country's federal security service FSB has offered a $50 million reward for information helping in the capture of the terrorists who downed the passenger plane.

Moscow's announcement regarding the alleged bombing comes days after a series of coordinated attacks claimed by ISIS shook the French capital Paris on Friday, killing at least 129 people.

Observers say the confirmation of the bombing highlights a far-reaching capacity of Islamist militants.

"ISIS was sending a message that they have various tools that they can utilise against their rivals in the west, mainly Russia and the US, and that they can carry out several large-scale terrorist operations in a short period of time," Ali Bakr, a researcher on Islamist movements, told Ahram Online.

Boosting security and tourism

Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar said that authorities have boosted security and inspection procedures in all Egyptian airports; with police inspecting the luggage of passengers and workers, as well as inspecting and securing planes.

Abdel-Ghaffar also said that the interior ministry is cooperating with experts from different countries as well as airline representatives who have expressed concern in the aftermath of the incident.

Several such representatives have already praised the newly adopted security measures, according to the interior minister.

Abdel-Ghaffar also said that the ministry has established security units responsible for gathering information about the reasons behind the Russian crash as well as its security implications.

He also dismissed reports that employees in Sharm El-Sheikh Airport were held for questioning over suspicion of aiding in the alleged bombing of the plane, and the Kremlin has said that Moscow did not receive any reports of arrests.

The Egyptian cabinet also announced several procedures aimed at supporting and promoting tourism in Egypt, including the signing of a deal with an international public relations agency.

The PR firm is charged with improving the image of tourism in Egypt, particularly after the suspension of Russian flights to Egypt following the crash. Russia is the biggest exporter of tourists to Egypt with more than 3 millions visitors in 2014.

Several other countries, including the UK, have suspended flights to Sharm El-Sheikh, or Egypt altogether, over security fears, prompting concerns that the country's tourism industry – already ravaged by over four years of political turmoil – is now certain to see a huge slump.

Russia has also banned incoming flights by Egypt's state-owned airline over concerns about the company's security measures following the disaster.

"Germany, one of the countries that have not suspended their flights to Egypt, is sending security personnel to join Egypt in reviewing security procedures for flights," Zaazou said during the cabinet's press conference.

The ailing tourism sector is one of Egypt's main sources of foreign currency, of which the country is in dire need to buy basic foodstuff and fulfill its international obligations.

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