MOSCOW • Russian security officials have confirmed that a bomb caused the air crash in Egypt on Oct 31 that killed 224 people, with President Vladimir Putin putting the blame squarely on terrorists and vowing revenge.
The report came as the Egyptian authorities said they have detained two employees of Sharm al-Sheikh airport in connection with the downing of the Russian jet.
"Seventeen people are being held, two of them are suspected of helping whoever planted the bomb on the plane at Sharm al-Sheikh airport," an Egyptian security official said yesterday.
'WE'LL HUNT THEM DOWN'
We won't wipe the tears out of our souls and hearts. This will remain with us forever... We will hunt them everywhere, wherever they're hiding. We'll find them anywhere in the world and we'll punish them.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN
It was not immediately clear what role the employees had at the airport, which is Egypt's third-busiest, handling a vast number of charter and budget flights for tourists seeking sea and sun in the southern Sinai peninsula.
Since the disaster, many flights to and from Sharm al-Sheikh have been suspended, raising concerns that Egypt's tourism industry, worth about US$7 billion (S$9.95 billion) a year and still a pillar of the economy despite having fallen sharply in recent years, will be further ravaged.
Traces of foreign-made explosives were discovered in the wreckage of the plane and on the possessions of people killed in the crash, Mr Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), told Mr Putin in comments broadcast yesterday from a meeting on Monday with defence and security chiefs.
"According to an analysis by our specialists, a home-made bomb containing up to 1kg of TNT detonated during the flight, causing the plane to break up in mid-air, which explains why parts of the fuselage were spread over such a large distance," said Mr Bortnikov.
"We can unequivocally say it was a terrorist act," he said.
Russia's FSB is offering a US$50 million reward for information leading to the capture of those responsible for downing the aircraft in Egypt, state-run RIA Novosti reported, citing the security service's press office.
Russia must know the names of all those involved in the crime, Mr Putin said. "We will hunt them everywhere, wherever they're hiding. We'll find them anywhere in the world and we'll punish them," he said. He vowed to step up military strikes in Syria to punish those who carried out "one of the bloodiest crimes" against Russians.
"Not for the first time, Russia is confronted with barbaric terrorist crimes," Mr Putin said in comments at the meeting. "We won't wipe the tears out of our souls and hearts. This will remain with us forever. But it won't stop us from finding and punishing the perpetrators."
Mr Putin's confirmation of a terrorist attack follows warnings from Britain and the United States that a bomb may have downed the aircraft after it left the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for St Petersburg.
An Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate in Egypt's Sinai peninsula has claimed it blew up the plane in retaliation for Russia's bombing campaign in Syria against the organisation and other militants fighting the regime of President Bashar al- Assad.
Russian air strikes in Syria must continue and be increased "so these criminals understand that retribution is inescapable," Mr Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the meeting.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov should "turn to all our partners" for assistance, he said.
Russia staged air strikes on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria yesterday, a senior French government source said. .
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE