MS Risk Blog

Egypt Increases Airport Security and Detains Two Staff Members after Russia Plane Disaster

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On Tuesday, the Egyptian government announced that it is increasing security at airports over the possibility that a Russian plane departing from a Sinai resort was brought down by a bomb late last month.

A statement released by the interior ministry disclosed that “taking into consideration all possible causes behind the plane crash, including the possibility that it was targeted by a terrorist attack, the Egyptian authorities have enhanced security measures in all airports.” The country’s’ interior ministry further disclosed on Tuesday that there was a review of screening measures for passengers and luggage, “and enhancement of search procedures for passengers and workers upon entry into the airport.” The ministry added that “security sweeps” of airplanes would be conducted as well as “reviews of flight crews’ security permits.” The release of the statement came as an Egyptian minister disclosed that a probe into the crash had yet to reach any final conclusions pertaining to the disaster. Speaking at a news conference, Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal stated that “until now the (investigation) committee has not yet arrived to any results indicating the cause of the crash.” The remarks came shortly after officials in Russia announced that a bomb had brought down the aircraft. Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB, disclosed Tuesday that the conclusion of Russian investigators was that a homemade bomb containing around 1 kg (2 lbs) of TNT had detonated during the flight, which caused the plane to break up in mid air. He further stated that “we can unequivocally say it was a terrorist act.”

The plane, which was flown by Russian firm Kogalymavia, came down shortly after take off from resort Sharm el-Sheikh on 31 October. All 224 people on board were killed in what is Russia’s worst air disaster. The crash prompted Britain to restrict flights to the resort, and Moscow to all Egyptian airports while barring the country’s national carrier EgyptAir from Russia.

It is now known how a bomb would have been smuggled on the plane before it set off from the popular Red Sea resort, however there have been suspicions that it was an inside job. Two security officials and an airport employee disclosed on Tuesday that Egyptian authorities have detained two employees of Sharm el-Sheikh airport for questioning in connection with the downing of the Russian jet. One of the security officials has indicated that “seventeen people are being held, two of them are suspected of helping whoever planted the bomb on the plane at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.” The other security official has disclosed that CCTV footage showed a baggage handler carrying a suitcase from an airport building to another man, who was loading luggage onto the doomed airliner from beneath the plane on the runway. Meanwhile an employee at the airport media department has also confirmed that two members of the ground crew had been detained for questioning on Monday night. It currently remains unclear what role the employees had at the airport, which is the third largest in the country and which handles a vast number of charter and budget flights for tourists visiting the southern Sinai peninsula. In a statement however, the interior and civil aviation ministries’ media departments denied that there had been any arrests.

Separately, other sources at the airport have reported that security forces were searching for two employees who are suspected of leaving a baggage-scanning machine unattended for a period of time while passengers were boarding the Russian plane. Sources have indicated that CCTV footage is being examined in order to confirm what occurred. Sources however have reported that investigators had questioned all the airport staff involved with handling the Russian plane, its passengers and bags after the accident. So far, no arrests have been made in the search for the two employees who were believed to have stepped away from the baggage-scanning machine.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has previously stated that failures in security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport may have enabled the attack. According to Hammond, “you don’t need a sophisticated capability to get a small bomb, and that’s all you need to bring down an aircraft, a small bomb with a straightforward timer,” adding that “sadly there are many, many people who can do that. The issue is about getting it air side in an airport that is supposed to be secure…Where this points the finger is at the capability of the security on the ground at Sharm el-Sheikh.”

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