A bomb planted by the Islamic State militant group is the likely cause of last weekend’s crash of a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, US and European security sources.
Islamic State, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria and is battling the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula, said again on Wednesday it brought down the airplane, adding it would eventually tell the world how it carried out the attack, Reuters reported.
The Airbus A321M crashed on Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on its way to the Russian city of St. Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board.
The US and European security sources stressed they had reached no final conclusions about the crash, the news agency said.
Britain on Wednesday cited the likely possibility of an explosive device as the cause of the crash, but made no mention of any group that may have been responsible, the report said.
“We have concluded that there is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft,” Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said after a meeting of the government’s crisis response committee chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Hammond’s remarks came as Britain prepares to host a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi this week.
Egypt, a close ally of the United States and the most populous Arab country, dismissed a similar claim of responsibility for the crash by Islamic State on Saturday.
“It is believed to be an explosion but what kind is not clear. There is an examination of the sand at the crash site to try and determine if it was a bomb,” said an Egyptian source who is close to the team investigating the black boxes.
“There are forensic investigations underway at the crash site. That will help determine the cause, to see if traces of explosives are found.”
Sisi has described Islamist militancy as an existential threat to the Arab world and the West and has repeatedly called for greater international efforts to combat the militants.
Hammond said Britain is “advising against all but essential travel by air through Sharm el-Sheikh airport. That means that there will be no UK passenger flights out to Sharm el-Sheikh from now.”
Britain said it was working with airlines and Egyptian authorities to put in place additional security and screening measures to allow Britons in Sharm el-Sheikh to get home, but that would take time and there would be no flights returning from the resort on Thursday.
A Russian aviation official said the investigation was looking into the possibility of an object stowed on board causing the disaster.
“There are two versions now under consideration: something stowed inside [the plane] and a technical fault. But the airplane could not just break apart in the air – there should be some action. A rocket is unlikely as there are no signs of that,” the Russian official said.
Security experts and investigators have said the plane is unlikely to have been struck from the outside and Sinai-based militants are not believed to possess the technology to shoot down a jet from a cruising altitude above 30,000 feet.
Investigators have extracted and validated the contents of the flight data recorder, one of two so-called black boxes recovered from the Russian plane, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said.
The ministry said the second black box, which contains the cockpit voice recorder, was partially damaged and much work was required to extract data from it.
The militant group Sinai Province has said it had brought down the airliner “in response to Russian air strikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land”.
In an audio message posted on a Twitter account used by the group, Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate insisted on Wednesday it was behind the crash. The claim could not immediately be authenticated.
“We, with God’s grace, are the ones who brought it down, and we are not obliged to disclose the mechanism of its demise,” the speaker said.
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on Sept. 30.
The hardline group has called for war against both Russia and the United States in response to their air strikes in Syria.
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