Suleiman claims he saved EgyptAir's reputation after 1999 crash

Ahram Online, Friday 13 Apr 2012

Ex-intelligence chief and presidential contender says his close ties with the FBI helped save the national carrier's image after an air tragedy that cost over 200 lives

Omar Suleiman
Egypt's former Vice President and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman (Photo: Reuters)

Presidential candidate and ex-intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has revealed the role he played in "saving" his country's reputation after the fatal crash of an EgyptAir plane on its way back from the United States in 1999.

Suleiman, a last-minute entrant in the presidential race, has faced intense criticism from Islamists and leftists for his central role in running the ruthless security apparatus of ex-president Hosni Mubarak.
But, in an interview with the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, Suleiman suggested his intelligence connections had acted to save EgyptAir, the country's national carrier, from catastrophe.
Initial US investigations into the 1999 tragedy indicated that the Egyptian pilot, Gameel Al-Batouti, had committed suicide by crashing the plane into the Atlantic, leading to the deaths of over 200 passengers.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which was set to handle the case was planning to cite the contents of the aircraft's black-box recorder as proof of the pilot's suicidal intent.
Such a move would have destroyed the reputation of EgyptAir and could have made the airline liable for $10 million in compensation for each victim, according to Suleiman.
The former intelligence chief claims he pulled strings in the US intelligence and diplomatic communities to leave the image of Egypt Air unscathed.
"President Mubarak [who was toppled in the wake of the 2011 uprising] told me -- 'Save us Omar from this great predicament. Stop it at any cost'," Suleiman said in an interview with Al-Ahram newspaper.
"On that day, I defined three main objectives in my mission: to prevent the case from being handled by the FBI at any cost, and to obtain an apology from the US to Egypt for the leaks in the case, which accused the pilot of committing suicide and blemished the reputation of Egyptian pilots.
"The third [point] was to oblige the US administration to allow Egyptian investigators to participate in the investigations taking place in the US so they could explain many facts they [Americans] do not know about our Islamic and Arab culture, and rule out the possibility that it was a suicide.
"I took a flight to Washington on the same day. I was on an EgyptAir plane and I noticed how the company’s employees were worried over the possibility the reputation of the company would be destroyed … my will to achieve the three aspects of the mission was doubled.
"On the same day, I met the FBI head. He was a close friend to me and we had fruitful cooperation and we were keen to keen intact the relationship of both countries … he said he would never turn me down too.
"I told him about the three points of my mission and after many discussions I got his approval to let Egyptian investigators participate in the investigation and to prevent the case from being handled by the FBI.
"However, he adamantly refused to offer an apology. He said, 'General Suleiman, the US does not apologise'.
"On the same day, I decided to raise the matter to the US President [Bill Clinton] who was in Turkey. I spoke to the foreign minister and we negotiated the importance of getting an apology from the US administration to defend the reputation of Egypt Air.
"Eventually, the president [Clinton] was convinced and the US foreign ministry apologised."  
EgyptAir Flight 990 was flying from Los Angeles International Airport to Cairo when it crashed on 31 October 1999.
The Boeing 767 fell into the Atlantic Ocean, about 60 miles (97 km) south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, killing all 217 people on board.
Egyptian reports suggested the crash took place as a result of failure of one of the right elevator's power control units.
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