In Brief

Sinai plane crash: Egypt says 'no proof of terrorism'

Crash probe findings go against Russia and Western intelligence claims

The Egyptian authorities have claimed there is no evidence the Russian passenger plane downed over Sinai in October was attacked by terrorists.

A preliminary report on the crash, by Egypt's civil aviation ministry, says investigators have "so far not found anything indicating any illegal intervention or terrorist action".

This goes against claims by Russia and Western governments, which say the Airbus A321 operated by Metrojet was most likely brought down by a bomb, reports The Independent.

The Islamic State (IS) militant group has also claimed it smuggled an explosive on board. The crash, which happened on 31 October, has hit Egypt's tourism industry, a cornerstone of its economy, according to Reuters.

The plane took off from Sharm el-Sheikh, a Red Sea resort popular with Russian and British holiday makers. The crash raised serious questions about airport security, with Russia and Britain both suspending flights into Sharm el-Sheikh.

"From day one, Egyptian officials have steadfastly played down terrorism links to the crash which killed all 224 passengers on board," reports CNN.

IS has said the bombing was in response to Russian air strikes in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin has since vowed "retribution" against the individuals behind the crash, stepping up air strikes over Syrian territory held by IS in November.

Sinai plane crash: Russia confirms 'terror act' brought down plane

17 November

The Russian plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt last month was brought down by a "terror act", Russia's security chief has declared.

Aleksandr Bortnikov, the Federal Security Service director, has told Russian President Vladimir Putin that traces of a "foreign-made explosive substance" were found by experts analysing debris from the plane and victims' belongings.

"During the flight, a homemade device with the power of 1.5kg of TNT was detonated. As a result, the plane fell apart in the air, which can be explained by the huge scattering of the fuselage parts of the plane," he said.

His announcement marks the first time the Kremlin has acknowledged that a bomb brought down the plane. The Kogalymavia A231 air crash on 31 October left 224 people dead, making it the deadliest air accident in modern Russian history.

Putin has vowed to find the culprits, reports Russia Today. "We will search for them everywhere wherever they are hiding. We will find them anywhere on the planet and punish them," Putin said.

An Islamic State video, released earlier this month, showed a Russian-speaking jihadist praising his "Sinai brothers" for taking down a Russian passenger jet.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has previously said there was a "high probability" that a bomb planted by an IS supporter might have caused the crash.

"It may have been an individual who was inspired by Isis who was self-radicalised by looking at Isis propaganda and was acting in the name of Isis without necessarily being directed," said Hammond.

The "rapid succession" of strikes claimed by IS – on the Russian plane, in Beirut and in Paris – suggests that "the regional war has turned into a global one", says the New York Times.

In the first sign of a shift in Russia's strategy, Putin has announced that he will support Syria's opposition in the fight against IS. Previously, the West had accused him of attacking the opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rather than IS.

Sinai plane crash: Egyptian hotel workers questioned

10 November

Hotel staff in Sharm el-Sheik are among those being questioned by authorities investigating the cause of the Russian plane crash in Egypt last week.

Airport employees, including baggage handlers and caterers, have already been questioned amid growing fears that the plane was brought down by a bomb. British security officials suspect someone with access to the aircraft's baggage compartment planted a bomb there shortly before take off.

The investigation has now widened its inquiries in case an explosive device was placed in a bag while it was still at one of the hotels. "Everyone even remotely linked to the plane has been summoned, from hotel workers to the staff on the flight," a source told The Times.

The inquiry follows claims that fake bomb detectors – comprising radio aerials attached to handles – were used in at least five hotels in Sharm el-Sheik, says the newspaper.

"It is quite simply a fraud and a dangerous one," said Cambridge University physicist Michael Sutherland. "They would have as much luck searching for explosives using a kebab."

The official investigation into the cause of the tragedy is ongoing, but the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has now acknowledged that an "act of terror" probably brought down the plane.

Foreign secretary Philip Hammond says there is a "high probability" that a bomb planted by an Islamic State supporter brought down the aircraft.

However, he insists that this does not necessarily mean that the attack was directed from the group's headquarters in Syria, The Guardian reports.

"It may have been an individual who was inspired by Isis who was self-radicalised by looking at Isis propaganda and was acting in the name of Isis without necessarily being directed," he said.

Sinai plane crash: Russia halts flights to Egypt amid bomb fears

06 November

Russia has decided to halt all outbound flights to Egypt amid growing concerns that the plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last week was downed by a bomb.

Russian president Vladimir Putin made the decision following a recommendation from the country's security service that all air travel to the country be suspended until the cause of the crash is established.

"The head of state agreed with these recommendations," said spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. "Putin has instructed the government to look into the mechanisms of implementing [them] and ensure the return home of Russian citizens."

The Metrojet Airbus A321 crashed after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board. The official cause is unknown, but the British government believes it is likely that an explosive device was placed in the luggage hold by someone who had access to the runway.

Moscow and Cairo had earlier expressed their frustration at this assessment and the UK's decision to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheik, arguing that it is too early to determine the cause of the crash. 

Putin's sudden and unexpected decision to order the suspension of all air travel to Egypt "marks a significant U-turn by the Russian premier," says The Guardian.

Sinai plane crash: Britons flown home from Sharm el-Sheikh

06 November

British nationals stranded in Egypt after the UK suspended flights over fears that a Russian airliner was brought down by a bomb last week will begin arriving home today.

Flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to UK airports were cancelled after the government said it was likely that an explosive device was planted on the plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing 224 people.

The intelligence was based on intercepted messages between militants in the region, the BBC reports. Security officials suspect someone with access to the aircraft's baggage compartment planted a bomb there shortly before take-off.

Travel from Sharm el-Sheikh will resume today, but outbound flights from the UK remain suspended as the Foreign Office continues to advise Britons against all non-essential air travel to the resort.

The "vast majority" of British tourists who should have returned home on Wednesday and Thursday will be back by tonight, said Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin.

The decision was made after the Egyptian authorities agreed to a new package of security measures, including empty holds, extra screening on passengers and checks on their hand luggage.

This means passengers will only be able to fly with their hand luggage. Hold luggage will be transported on a separate flight and returned to them by courier, according to The Guardian.

The official investigation into the cause of the crash is still ongoing, but Prime Minister David Cameron says it is now "more likely than not" that terrorists planted a bomb on the plane.

The statement and the decision to suspend flights have strained diplomatic relations with Russia and Egypt, who both argue that it is too early to determine the cause of the crash.

Sinai Province, the terrorist group linked to Islamic State operating in northern Egypt, has since reiterated its claim that it brought down the aircraft.

"We brought it down by God's help, but we are under no obligation to reveal the mechanism we used," the group said in an audio statement published on social media.

Sinai plane crash: flights halted as bomb fears grow

5 November

Flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to UK airports have been suspended after the government announced that a bomb may have been responsible for bringing down a Russian passenger jet in Egypt.

"We have concluded there is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft," Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said last night.

The plane came down shortly after taking off from the Egyptian resort in the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board. 

The official cause of the crash is still unknown, but Egyptian authorities have repeatedly dismissed claims from militants linked to Islamic State that they were responsible for destroying the aircraft. 

David Cameron will chair a second emergency Cobra meeting on the situation this morning, followed by a scheduled meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. 

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the BBC that the UK's decision to suspend flights from the resort was premature and unwarranted and that Egypt had taken "exceptional measures" to enhance security measures at the airport.

However, Hammond said the government had to act on the intelligence it had. "We would have liked to have the luxury of a lot more time to think about it but we had to take an immediate decision about what was in the best interests of the people on board," he said.

British aviation experts have been sent to Egypt to conduct a review of security at the airport and flights are expected to resume on Friday once they are confident planes can fly back safely.

People planning to travel to or from Sharm el-Sheikh are advised to contact their airline or tour operator. There are currently around 2,000 British tourists stranded at the resort.

British holidaymaker Kate Dodd was already on board the plane at Sharm airport with her family when passengers were informed that her flight had been cancelled.

She told BBC Breakfast that she hoped to travel home tomorrow but that "the priority obviously is to wait until it's safe to fly. I think nobody wants to rush if it's not a safe situation."

Sinai plane crash: 'no explosive residue' found on bodies

4 November

Experts have found no traces of explosive material on the victims of the Russian plane crash in the Sinai Peninsula last week, according to Russian media.

The plane came down shortly after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board. The cause of the tragedy is unknown and forensic examination of the bodies is currently underway.

Officials believe that the aircraft broke up in mid-air, but it is unclear if this was due to a technical failure, an external attack or an explosive device onboard the plane.

The joint investigation into the fate of Flight 7K9268 continues, with conflicting reports emerging from Egypt and Russia and no concrete answers for the grieving relatives of the victims.  

A Russian source involved in the analysis told the Tass news agency that "preliminary tests did not reveal traces of explosive on the bodies of those killed."

In a separate suggestion that an explosive device may not have been responsible for the crash, an Egyptian expert said that the bodies showed no signs of an "external impact," the agency says.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian doctor who examined half of the bodies revealed that one in five of the victims had been badly burned in the moments before death.

"The finding suggests that a fire broke out in the cabin while the plane was still the air but the doctor was not able to firmly conclude what caused the fire," says the Daily Telegraph.

US intelligence officials have told NBC News that they do not believe the plane was struck by a missile, as claimed by jihadists linked to Islamic State.

A US satellite reportedly detected a heat flash at the time the jet crashed, which could have been an explosion on the plane itself – either a fuel tank or a bomb – but not a surface-to-air missile.

"The speculation that this plane was brought down by a missile is off the table," the official said.

Sinai plane crash: 'unusual sounds' emitted from cockpit 

03 November

Unusual sounds were emitted from the plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last week, according to a transcript of the cockpit recording obtained by the Russian news agency Interfax.

The plane was travelling to St Petersburg on Saturday when it crashed into the desert shortly after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport, killing all 224 people on board, the majority of them Russian tourists.

An international investigation into the cause of the crash is currently underway and investigators are analysing the two flight data recorders for vital information about the last few moments of the flight.

Interfax reports that it has obtained a transcript of one of the recordings, though this has not yet been independently verified.

An unnamed source quoted by the agency said "sounds uncharacteristic of routine flight were recorded preceding the moment that the aircraft disappeared from radar screens". 

The recording suggested that the situation had developed "suddenly and unexpectedly" and no mayday call was issued, the source added, according to The Guardian

There is growing confusion around the cause of the tragedy. Russia is yet to rule out the possibility of a terrorist attack, but Egypt's president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi today dismissed claims that militants linked to Islamic State brought down the plane as propaganda. "Believe me; the situation in Sinai - especially in this limited area - is under our full control."

The region has witnessed a violent insurgency by a militant group called Sinai Province. They pledged allegiance to IS in 2014 and say their mission is to establish an Islamic caliphate in northern Egypt.

US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said there was no "direct evidence" of any terrorist involvement yet. "It's unlikely," he added, "but I wouldn't rule it out."

 

Sinai plane crash: what happened to the Russian airliner?

2 November

An international investigation is underway into what caused a Russian airliner to crash in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.

Kogalymavia Flight 9268 was travelling to St Petersburg when it crashed in the desert shortly after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. 

The passengers were all Russian nationals, except for four people from Ukraine and one from Belarus. The youngest victim was a ten-month-old baby girl returning home from a family holiday. 

The bodies of some of the victims have begun arriving in St Petersburg, as mourning relatives demand answers from the Russian and Egyptian authorities. 

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have both been recovered and transported to Cairo for analysis. They are likely to provide crucial information about the final minutes of the flight.

Senior Russian aviation official Viktor Sorochenko has said it is too early to draw conclusions about the cause of the crash but has confirmed that the plane disintegrated in mid-air.

"[This] narrows it down a little bit, but there are a number of issues that could have affected this plane," said CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz. "And terrorism has not been ruled out."

What are the lines of inquiry likely to be?

A technical fault

Egyptian officials believe that a mechanical failure was the most likely cause of the crash, the BBC reports. Co-pilot Sergei Trukachev reportedly raised concerns about the condition of the aircraft with his family before take-off. "He complained before the flight that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired," his wife, Natalya Trukhacheva told Russian state television. 

But the Kogalymavia airline insists the 18-year-old aircraft was in good condition and Egypt's civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal said "there were no reports that the airplane had faults [and] the checks done before take-off did not reveal anything".

An 'external influence'

The airline, which trades as Metrojet, has concluded that the crash was due to "external influence". Deputy director Alexander Smirnov said they had ruled out a technical fault or pilot error.

"The only [explanation] for the plane to have been destroyed in mid-air can be specific impact, purely mechanical, physical influence on the aircraft," he said.

When asked about what could have been responsible for this impact, Smirnov said that he was not at liberty to discuss details as the investigation was still ongoing, The Guardian reports.

However, a source from the Egyptian team responsible for analysing the black box recorders said a preliminary examination suggested that the plane had not been struck from the outside. 

Shot down by a missile

A jihadist group affiliated to Islamic State operating in the region has claimed responsibility for shooting down the plane with a missile, arguing that it was revenge for Russia's intervention in Syria. However, this was immediately dismissed by officials in Moscow and Cairo, who argue that the militants do not possess weapons capable of bringing down a plane flying at an altitude of 31,000ft.

Despite these assertions, three major airlines – Emirates, Air France and Lufthansa – have announced that they will not be flying over the region until the investigation has concluded.

A bomb on board

Despite stringent security measures in place at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, experts have not discounted the possibility that an explosive device may have been detonated on board the aircraft.

"Early reports said that [the aircraft] split into two and that suggests a catastrophic failure, not a mechanical failure, but that suggests perhaps an explosion on board," Professor Michael Clarke, director general of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told the BBC.

"So I'd be much more inclined to think [that] if we have to guess at this stage, it's much more likely to have been a bomb on board rather than a missile fired from the ground."

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