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Investigators Said to Be '90 Percent Sure' That Russian Airliner Was Bombed

A day after the Islamic State again claimed responsibility for downing the plane, a member of the Egyptian investigation team reportedly said that evidence indicates it was a bomb.

by Reuters and VICE News
Nov 8 2015, 7:10pm

Foto di Maxim Grigoriev/Russian Emerge/EPA

Investigators of the Russian plane crash in Egypt are "90 percent sure" the noise heard in the final second of a cockpit recording was an explosion caused by a bomb, a member of the investigation team told Reuters on Sunday.

The Airbus A321 crashed 23 minutes after taking off from the Sharm el-Sheikh tourist resort eight days ago, killing all 224 passengers and crew. Islamic State militants fighting Egyptian security forces in Sinai said they brought it down.

"The indications and analysis so far of the sound on the black box indicate it was a bomb," said the Egyptian investigation team member, who asked not to be named due to sensitivities. "We are 90 percent sure it was a bomb."

His comments reflect a much greater degree of certainty about the cause of the crash than the investigation committee has so far declared in public.

Related: Egyptian Official Describes Unknown 'Noise' on Black Box of Russian Airliner Before Crash

The update follows a video released by the Islamic State on Saturday entitled "Healing souls to kill Russians," which again reiterated the group's claims of responsibility for downing the plane. The video purportedly shows destruction and civilian casualties from "Russian atrocities" in Syria, and includes footage of the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"As you kill, thou shalt be killed," the video's narrator says. "Never will we let infidels and communists have peace and security, until all Muslim countries enjoy peace and security… We shot it down, so rage as you will."

Lead investigator Ayman al-Muqaddam announced on Saturday that the plane appeared to have broken up in mid-air while it was being flown on autopilot, and that a noise had been heard in the last second of the cockpit recording. But he said it was too soon to draw conclusions about why the plane crashed.

Confirmation that militants brought down the airliner could have a devastating impact on Egypt's lucrative tourist industry, which has suffered from years of political turmoil and was hit last week when Russia, Turkey and several European countries suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh and other destinations.

'The indications and analysis so far of the sound on the black box indicate it was a bomb.'

Asked to explain the remaining 10 percent margin of doubt, the investigator declined to elaborate, but Muqaddam cited other possibilities on Saturday including a fuel explosion, metal fatigue in the plane, or lithium batteries overheating.

He said debris was scattered over a 13-kilometer area "which is consistent with an in-flight break-up".

"What happened in Sharm el-Sheikh last week, and to a lesser extent with the ... (Germanwings) aircraft, are game changers for our industry," Emirates Airlines President Tim Clark said, referring to the crash of a Germanwings airliner in the French Alps in March, believed crashed deliberately by its co-pilot.

Related: US Officials Are Saying the Russian Airliner That Crashed in Egypt Was Likely Bombed

"They have to be addressed at industry level because no doubt the countries — US, Europe — I would think will make some fairly stringent, draconian demands on the way aviation works with security," he said at the Dubai Airshow.

Clark said he had ordered a security review but was not suspending any flights as a result of the disaster. Emirates does not operate regular flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond also said the incident could lead to changes in flight security.

"If this turns out to be a device planted by an ISIL operative or by somebody inspired by ISIL, then clearly we will have to look again at the level of security we expect to see in airports in areas where ISIL is active," Hammond told the BBC, using an alternate name for the militant group.

Islamic State militants fighting security forces in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have said they brought down the aircraft as revenge for Russian air strikes against Islamist fighters in Syria. They said they would eventually tell the world how they carried out the attack.

If the group was responsible, it would have carried out one of the highest profile killings since al Qaeda flew passenger planes into New York's World Trade Center in September 2001.

Russia has returned 11,000 of its tourists from Egypt in the last 24 hours, RIA news agency said on Sunday, a fraction of the 80,000 Russians who were stranded by the Kremlin's decision on Friday to halt all flights to Egypt.

Related: Islamic State Claims It Downed Russian Airliner — But Cause Remains Unclear

In St. Petersburg, where the flight was headed on October 31, the bell of St Isaac's Cathedral rang 224 times and a service was held in memory of the victims.

Russia has sent specialists to conduct a safety audit of Egypt's airports and to provide recommendations on additional measures, Arkady Dvorkovich, deputy prime minister, was quoted as saying by Russian agencies.

Dvorkovich, the head of a government group created on Friday to deal with suspended flights to Egypt, added a second group was going to Egypt on Sunday and a third would be sent later.

Britain, which has 3,000 nationals waiting to return home, has sent a team of 70 people, including 10 aviation specialists working at Sharm el-Sheikh airport to make sure security measures are being followed.

Eight flights were expected to take British tourists back home on Sunday.

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