Egypt crash may be caused by bomb; flights suspended

Egyptian servicemen approach a piece of wreckage of Russian MetroJet Airbus A321 at the site of the crash in Sinai, Egypt, on Nov 1, 2015.
Egyptian servicemen approach a piece of wreckage of Russian MetroJet Airbus A321 at the site of the crash in Sinai, Egypt, on Nov 1, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON/WASHINGTON/MOSCOW • Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands have partially suspended flights to Egypt while Germany urges travellers to avoid the Sinai Peninsula amid fears that a bomb could have caused the Russian plane crash last weekend.

The European countries announced on Wednesday that they were suspending flights to and from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Airbus A-321 took off last Saturday bound for St Petersburg before crashing minutes later, killing all 224 people on board.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that it was more likely than not that a bomb was to blame. "We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but it looks increasingly likely that that was the case," he said.

He was to call an emergency Cabinet meeting on how to start repatriating British holidaymakers. There are about 20,000 Britons currently in the Sinai Peninsula resort.

Germany's Foreign Ministry yesterday also urged travellers to Egypt to avoid the Sinai Peninsula.

German airline group Lufthansa said its Eurowings and Edelweiss units are halting flights to Sharm al-Sheikh for the time being, and it will work with the foreign office and tour operators to bring passengers back from the resort.

British and US officials had earlier said there was a significant possibility that the Egyptian affiliate of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had orchestrated a bomb attack on the plane, possibly with the help of an insider who was paid off.

"We've looked at the whole information picture, including that claim... and concluded that there is a significant possibility," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sky television on Wednesday.

Three US officials speaking on condition of anonymity said terrorism was now the leading theory in the case. Preliminary evidence suggested ISIS involvement and investigators were examining the prospect that someone - perhaps a baggage handler or airline official - was bribed to get a bomb onto the airliner, two of the officials said.

Other possibilities haven't been ruled out, the officials said.

The Kremlin yesterday dismissed any claims over the cause of the jet crash as "speculation". Egypt said investigators "have as yet no evidence or data confirming the theory" of a bomb attack.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline 'Egypt crash may be caused by bomb; flights suspended'. Print Edition | Subscribe