Britain, Ireland rush to evacuate their citizens from Red Sea resort

Russian emergency services personnel working at the plane's crash site in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai peninsula, in a handout picture from Russia's Emergency Ministry.
Russian emergency services personnel working at the plane's crash site in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai peninsula, in a handout picture from Russia's Emergency Ministry.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Britain and Ireland are scrambling to repatriate tens of thousands of their nationals from Egypt after suspending flights to and from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh over security concerns.

The resort was where a Russian plane took off last Saturday bound for St Petersburg before crashing minutes later, killing all 224 people on board.

United States and British officials said there was a significant possibility that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) Egyptian affiliate was behind a suspected bomb attack on the plane as the group has claimed.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said yesterday that Britain was planning emergency measures to repatriate holidaymakers from Sharm el-Sheikh, starting from today.

An estimated 20,000 Britons and at least 179 Irish citizens are currently in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Mr Hammond said the measures "will allow us to screen everything going onto those planes, double- check those planes so we can be confident that they can fly back safely to the UK".

A small British military team has been sent to the resort as part of the review.

Travel companies led by EasyJet and Thomas Cook Group said they were preparing to evacuate about 10,000 tourists.

EasyJet, which said yesterday that it has 4,500 passengers in Egypt, will model the plan on its extraction of clients from Tunisia after a shooting in June left 30 Britons dead, with empty jets flying from Britain for rescue operations.

Mr Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that Russian planes were still flying to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.

The head of Russian aviation agency Rosaviatsia said investigators would examine whether there was any explosive material on the plane. Mr Alexander Neradko said the investigation would reach initial conclusions in a few months.

Russian airline Kogalymavia, which operated the plane, has ruled out a technical fault or human error, drawing fire from the head of Russia's aviation authority for a "premature" assessment.

Experts say the fact that debris and bodies were strewn over a wide area indicated that the aircraft disintegrated in mid-air, meaning the crash was likely caused by either a technical fault or a bomb on board.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria, including ISIS, on Sept 30.

The extremist group has claimed it caused the disaster and said it would reveal how at a time of its choosing.

If confirmed, it would be the first time the militant group, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, has bombed a passenger plane.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline 'Britain, Ireland rush to evacuate their citizens from Red Sea resort'. Print Edition | Subscribe