By Arab News
Russia and Egypt on Thursday dismissed suggestions by Britain and the United States that a bomb was likely to have brought down a Metrojet flight packed with Russian vacationers leaving an Egyptian resort, saying the claim was premature.
Intercepted communications played a role in the tentative conclusion that Daesh’s Sinai affiliate planted an explosive device on the plane, said a US official briefed on the matter, preferring anonymity.
US Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on Fox news that evidence so far indicated a Daesh attack “with an explosive device in the airplane.”
McCaul said if Daesh was behind the attack, it should cause Russia to rethink its focus in Syria and use its weapons against the militant group rather than to support President Bashar Assad. He also called for tougher US efforts against the militant group.
“I think that we need to step up this war on terror against Daesh because if it’s a Russian airline today it could be an American airline tomorrow,” McCaul told Fox.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, insisted that aviation investigators were working on all possible theories as to why the Airbus A321-200 carrying 224 people crashed Saturday. He said naming just one possibility was mere speculation.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond spoke of a “significant possibility” the crash was caused by a bomb and Britain immediately suspended all flights to and from Sharm El-Sheikh. The move stranded hundreds of tourists in Egypt.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the crash was “more likely than not” caused by a bomb. He said he had “every sympathy” with the Egyptians, who rely so on heavily on tourism, but that he had to “put the safety of British people first.”
In a telephone call, Putin told Cameron it was important that assessments of the cause of the crash be based on information from the official investigation.
Egyptian officials condemned Britain’s travel ban as an overreaction. Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazou said Britain’s decision was unjustified and called for an immediate rethink. “The decision is unjustified and carries a lot of question marks.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that if Britain had information about the bomb, it’s “really shocking” that it hasn’t shared it with Russia.
Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty rejected the US and British allegations outright. “(The crash) is not a terror act. It was an accident,” he declared. Egypt’s Civil Aviation minister, Hossam Kamal, insisted that the country’s airports comply with international security standards.
Hammond said he expects British tourists to be flown back starting Friday, after measures are taken to tighten security at the resort’s airport.
German airline group Lufthansa said its Eurowings and Edelweiss units are halting flights to Sharm El-Sheikh for the time being as a precautionary measure. Lufthansa said it will now work with the foreign office and tour operators on bringing passengers back from Sharm.
Grief continued to roil St. Petersburg and its suburbs, as mourners brought more flowers, candles and paper planes to the city’s imperial-era square and the airport where the crashed Metrojet flight had been due to land.
Metrojet suspended all flights of Airbus A321 jets in its fleet after the crash.