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Moscow Angry It Was Not Handed Intelligence On Plane Crash

November 05, 2015
by RFE/RL

Moscow has responded furiously to suggestions by U.S. and British officials that a Russian airliner that crashed over Egypt may have been brought down by a bomb.

Officials from the Russian airline that operated the Airbus 321-200 that went down over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, as well as Egypt and Russia, have publicly stated that it is too soon to say what caused the crash.

Security sources in the United States and Britain, however, have indicated that their analyses suggest that a bomb is the likely culprit.

'We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but it looks increasingly likely that this was the case,' British Prime Minister David Cameron said on November 5.

CNN has cited unidentified U.S. officials as telling the news network that intelligence indicates that the Islamic State militant group or its affiliates planted a bomb on the aircraft.

U.S. Representative Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a November 5 interview with Fox News that 'all indicators' suggest that the plane was brought down by a bomb attack carried out by IS militants.

The suggestions prompted a sharp response from Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned British Prime Minister Cameron on November 5, telling him that it was vital to rely on information from the official investigation of the plane crash.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was blunt in her comments to the media on November 5.

'Frankly speaking, it's shocking to realize that the British government has some information that could shed some light on what happened...[and] nobody has passed it to Russia,' she said.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier on November 5 that Moscow 'cannot rule out a single theory' about the crash, but insisted that singling one out is merely speculation.

'So far, we have heard nothing [like this] from the investigation,' he said. 'Any kind of assumptions like this are based on information that has not been checked or are speculation.'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, by telephone on November 5.

'Both sides agreed that it was counterproductive to try to draw any conclusions without waiting for results of the investigation, which competent experts were conducting at the crash site,' the Russian Foreign Ministry said of their conversation.

Most of the passengers aboard the Kogalymavia/Metrojet flight were Russians on their way home from vacation at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. All 224 aboard the aircraft were killed when it broke up in midair over the Sinai about 20 minutes after taking off.

On November 4, the IS affiliate in Sinai said it planned the attack to coincide with the anniversary of the group's pledge of allegiance to IS and challenged skeptics to prove it was not responsible.

Security experts and investigators have said the plane is unlikely to have been struck from the outside and Sinai-based militants are not believed to possess the technology to shoot down a jet flying at an altitude of 9,100 meters. The focus then turned to the possibility of an on-board explosion.

The White House said on November 5 that some information learned by the United States supports Britain's suspicions that a bomb exploded inside the Russian passenger jet.

But White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington that the United States has not made its own determination about what caused the plane to crash but has not ruled out that it was the result of a terrorist attack.

"Based on what we know, and based in part at least on what's been publicly reported in terms of claims of responsibility, we can't rule anything out, including the possibility of terrorist involvement," Earnest said, adding that he could not discuss U.S. intelligence on the matter.

Earnest said the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama "is reviewing a number of different steps that we can take to enhance security for commercial flights bound for the United States from certain foreign airports."

He cast doubt on Russia's ability to conduct a proper investigation into the plane crash -- citing, as an example, Russia's unilateral investigations into the downing of the MH17 Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in July 2014.​

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told Cameron during a visit to London on November 5 that Cairo 'is completely ready' to work together with its partners to protect foreign tourists.

Britain has announced that it was advising against travel to North Sinai and was suspending flights to Sharm el-Sheikh indefinitely. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he expects British tourists to be flown back from the Red Sea resort starting on November 6, after measures are taken to tighten security at the city's airport.

A Russian lawmaker said on November 5 that the move was motivated by London's opposition to Russia's actions in Syria.

'There is geopolitical opposition to the actions of Russia in Syria,' said Konstantin Kosachev, a senior member of Russia's upper house of parliament, in comments quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency.

Egypt's tourism minister, Hisham Zaazou, said the British decision was unjustified. Egypt's state-run MENA news agency reported on November 5 that he was meeting with British officials in a bid to convince them to cancel the suspension of flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.

Two British airlines, Monarch and EasyJet, said that they would begin flying stranded British tourists back from the Sinai Peninsula on November 6.

Aviation authorities in Ireland on November 4 also directed all Irish flights not to fly to or from Sharm el-Sheikh or over the Sinai Peninsula until further notice.

The Russian-operated plane was registered in Ireland and the Irish Aviation Authority is taking part in the official investigation into the crash.

Germany's Lufthansa Group said on November 5 that it has canceled weekly flights to Sharm el-Sheikh by two of the airline's subsidiaries following the tragedy.

A Lufthansa spokesman said the carrier's budget arm, Eurowings, operated a weekly flight from Cologne/Bonn to the Egyptian resort, while another unit, Edelweiss Air, flies between Sharm el-Sheikh and Zurich. Both were suspended.

Kogalymavia will stop operating all Airbus A321 aircraft while it carries out additional checks, the Russian state transport agency Rostransnadzor said on November 5.

The airline has said technical faults or human errors couldn't have caused the crash.

Rescue teams have retrieved 140 bodies from the scene and more than 100 body parts.

They are combing a 40-square-kilometer area, searching for remains of the victims and wreckage.

Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said the Russian rescuers should finish their work later on November 5.

In Veliky Novgorod, some 160 kilometers south of St. Petersburg, the first victim of the crash was laid to rest on November 5. Family and friends said their goodbyes to 60-year-old Nina Lushchenko.

With reporting by AP, Reuters and dpa

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-egypt-plane- crash--victim-first-funeral/27346811.html

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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