Tag Archives: Sharm el-Sheikh

Egypt Announces That There Is No Evidence of Terrorism in Russian Plane Crash

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On Monday, 14 December, Egyptian officials reported that so far, they have found no evidence of terrorism or other illegal action linked to the 31 October crash of a Russian passenger plane in Sinai, which killed all 224 people on board. The plane came down en route to Russia from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

While Russian and Western governments have previously reported that the Airbus A321, which was operated by Metrojet, was likely brought down by a bomb, with a group linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group claiming responsibility and stating that it had managed to smuggle an explosive on board, Egypt’s civil aviation ministry has indicated that it has completed a preliminary report on the crash, adding that it had so far found no evidence of a criminal act. In a statement, the ministry disclosed that “the technical investigative committee has so far not found anything indicating any illegal intervention or terrorist action.” Russia had previously reported that a bomb brought down the Metrojet Airbus, after finding what it said were “traces of foreign explosives” on the debris. It has vowed to “find and punish” the perpetrators.”

In response to Monday’s findings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov re-iterated that “our experts concluded this was a terrorist attack.”

What is known is that the plane crash has affected Egypt’s tourism industry, which is a cornerstone of the economy. According to the country’s tourism minister, tourism revenues for 2015 will be at least 10% below last year’s.  The plane took off from Sharm el-Sheikh, a Red Sea resort that is popular with British and Russian holidaymakers. Furthermore, the incident has raised serious questions about airport security, which has prompted both Britain and Russia to suspend flights into Sharm el-Sheikh. Egypt is now also facing a two-year Islamist insurgency in the Sinai, which has killed hundreds of soldiers and police. Shortly after the 31 October plane crash, IS stated that the bombing was in response to Russian airstrikes in Syria. Last month, IS’ magazine published a photo of what it claimed was the improvised bomb that brought down the airliner. The picture in Dabiqu showed a Schweppes Gold soda can and what appears to be a detonator and a switch.

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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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US Intelligence Reports Indicate IS May Have Planted Bomb in Russian Plane

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Days after authorities dismissed claims that the Islamic State (IS) Group brought down a Russian passenger jet on Saturday, a US intelligence analysis has now suggested that either the terror group or one of its affiliates planted a bomb on the plane. On Thursday, Britain also disclosed that there was a significant possibility that IS’ Egyptian affiliate was behind a suspected bomb attack on the Russian airliner that killed 224 people in the Sinai Peninsula. Russia, however, has indicated that such theories remain speculation at this stage, adding that only the official investigation can determine what occurred. Egyptian officials have also disclosed that so far, there is no indication that a bomb was to blame.

On Saturday, Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after breaking apart in mid-air. It was en route to St Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Multiple US officials have indicated that the latest US intelligence has suggested that the crash was most likely caused by a bomb that was planted on the plane by IS or an affiliate. One US official has indicted that intelligence also suggests that someone at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport helped get a bomb onto the plane. The official disclosed that “this airport has lax security. It is known for that…But there is intelligence suggesting an assist from someone at the airport.” Officials however have stressed that no formal conclusion has been reached by the US intelligence community and that US officials have not seen forensic evidence from the crash investigation.

Egyptian authorities who are leading the investigation into the crash, have not publicly responded to the US intelligence reports however since the crash, they have downplayed the possibility that this could have been a terrorist attack. Both Egypt and Russia have also stated that any theories are “speculation.”

In the wake of the crash, late on Wednesday, the UK announced that it has suspended flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh. Ireland and the Netherlands have also banned flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh. On Thursday, German airline Lufthansa announced that its subsidiaries Edelweiss and Eurowings are stopping all flights to Sharm el-Sheikh. On Saturday, the airline reported that its planes would no longer fly over the Sinai Peninsula. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, has disclosed that Russian planes are still flying to and from Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated in the wake of the UK suspending flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh, that it could be “some time” before all British tourists stranded in the tourist destination are home. Sources have disclosed that UK security experts are working with local authorities in order to get Britons home. Monarch airlines has reported that three “rescue flights” will operate on Friday. The airline further indicated that the flights would be in addition to its two scheduled flights. British Airways has also confirmed that it will operate two flights. There are an estimated 20,000 Britons in the Red Sea resort, including 1,000 residents. Extra UK consular staff have been drafted in to Sharm el-Sheikh aiport while a Ministry of Defense source has disclosed that a small team of UK military personnel are in the resort in order to advise Foreign Office officials and Department of Transport officials on logistics and security.

If a bomb did kill 224 passengers and crew aboard the Airbus A321, that would almost certainly undermine Egypt’s tourism industry, which is still recovering from years of political turmoil. On Thursday, security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport appeared to have been tightened, with security forces patrolling the terminals and not allowing drivers, tour agents or others to loiter while awaiting tourist arrivals.

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