Egypt Disputes Russian Jet Crash Claims

Egypt Disputes Russian Jet Crash ClaimsEgypt Disputes Russian Jet Crash Claims

Egypt said on Monday it has not yet found any sign of terrorism in the deadly Oct. 31 crash of a Russian passenger jet in the Sinai Desert, a preliminary finding that conflicts with Russian, US and British statements that they believed a bomb on the aircraft probably was to blame.

The vaguely worded Egyptian statement reflected the deep reluctance among government authorities to point to the possibility of a bomb, and the implication of lax security at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport, where the Metrojet plane took off.

The Airbus A321-200 broke apart 23 minutes after departing the Red Sea resort for St. Petersburg, killing all 224 people aboard. The crash led Russia to halt all flights to and from Egypt, while Britain suspended flights to and from the resort. The actions inflicted a heavy blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry.

Several officials involved in Egypt’s investigation told AP that security gaps at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport were making finding a culprit more difficult, including poor video surveillance and the number of people who could enter the facility with only limited searches.

Soon after the crash, the US and Britain said the plane probably was brought down by a bomb, in part citing chatter among militants in Sinai. On Nov. 17, Moscow also announced a bomb was to blame, saying its tests had found the equivalent of 1 kg of TNT went off aboard the Airbus, causing it to break apart in the air. In response, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said only that his country would “bear in mind” the Russian conclusion.

A local affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group claimed the bombing and released an online photo of what it said was the bomb used to bring the plane down—a soft-drink can packed with explosives with wires that appeared to be a kind of detonator.

The head of Egypt’s main investigation, run by the Civil Aviation Ministry, said its inquiry so far has found no evidence of any “illegal or terrorist act”. Its preliminary report has been given to other countries involved, and it is continuing its work, said chief investigator Ayman el-Muqadam.

He also complained that the countries contending a bomb was to blame have not given his investigators “any information indicating unlawful interference” with the plane.

The ministry-led investigation, in which Russia and several other countries are taking part, has so far focused on technical aspects of the plane, including analyzing cockpit voice and flight data recorders. The prosecutor’s office has a separate inquiry involving the Interior Ministry, which is supposed to determine whether a criminal act took place.

Emad el-Dahshan, the head of the prosecution-led investigation, told AP, “We have no suspects.” He said video surveillance of the airport showed nothing.

But two officials involved in the investigations said Egyptian police had run their own tests of wreckage that had come up positive for traces of explosives and that the results were received even before Ismail made his comments.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the investigation.