Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has indicated that claims, put forth by militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group that they brought down a Russian airliner, are “propaganda.” The Egyptian president however noted that it is too early to say what caused the crash of the Airbus 321.
On Wednesday, in an audio message posted on a Twitter account used by the group, IS’ Egyptian affiliate dismissed doubts that it had downed the Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, stating that it would tell the world how it did so in its own time. In the message, the speaker stated, “we say to the deniers and the doubters: Die from your frustration. We, with God’s grace, are the ones who brought it down, and we are not obliged to disclose the mechanism of its demise…So go to your wreckage, search, bring your black boxes and analyse, give us the summary of your research and the product of your expertise and prove that we did not bring it down or how it came down,” adding, “we will disclose the mechanism of its demise at the time that we want and in the way that we want.”
The Russian-operated Airbus A321M crashed Saturday just 23 minutes after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh on its way to St Petersburg. All 224 people on board, most of whom were Russian citizens, were killed. The plane’s flight recorders have been found and have been sent for analysis. Meanwhile, Russian rescue teams have extended the search for bodies and wreckage from the plane to a 40 sq-km (15 sq-km) area, with officials disclosing that drones are being used in order to scan the sandy and hilly terrain.
Sinai Province, which is an Egyptian group that has pledged loyalty to IS, had earlier released a statement, on the same day as the crash, that it had brought down the airliner “in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land.” The claim however has been dismissed by both Egyptian and Russian officials. Security experts and investigators have disclosed that the plane is unlikely to have been struck from the outside and that Sinai-based militants are not believed to possess the technology to shoot down a jet from a cruising altitude above 30,000 feet. Russian officials have disclosed that the plane probably broke up in the air, a theory that has opened the prospect of some kind of explosion on board.
On Monday, the airline Kogalymavia, which has just renamed itself Metrojet, blamed “external influence” for the crash, stating that it has ruled out a technical fault or pilot error. According to Alexander Smirnov, “the only (explanation) for the plane to have been destroyed in mid-air can be specific impact, purely mechanical, physical influence on the aircraft,” adding that “there is no such combination of failures of systems which could have led to the plane disintegrating in the air.” He further indicated that the plane lost speed and began descending rapidly, adding that the crew made no attempt to get in contact and report about the situation on board. The head of Russia’s Federal Aviation Agency, Aleksandr Neradko, however has told Russian TV that such talk was premature and “not based on any proper facts.” Egyptian President Sisi has also warned against jumping to conclusions, stating, “all those interested in the matter are welcome to participate in the investigation.” He further stated that “when there is propaganda that it crashed because of ISIS (IS), this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt. Believe me, the situation in Sinai – especially in this limited area – is under our full control.” The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has also indicated that there is no “direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet,” noting, “its unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
In 2011, militants launched an insurgency in the Sinai following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. The increased their attacks after the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi in mid-2013. A year ago, the insurgents renamed their movement Sinai Province and pledged alliance to the Islamic State. Since then, hundreds of police and soldiers operating in the region have been killed.
On 30 September, Russia, which is an ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria, including IS. The hardline group however has called for war against both Russia and the United States in response to their air strikes in Syria. On Tuesday, IS backers in Iraq issued a video congratulating their Egyptian colleagues and warning Russian President Vladimir Putin that more was to come.