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Sunday 4 December 2016

Investigators '90pc sure' bomb downed airliner over Egypt

terror

sharm el-sheikh airport
sharm el-sheikh airport

Investigators looking into the Russian plane crash in Egypt are "90pc sure" the noise heard in the final second of a cockpit recording was an explosion caused by a bomb.

The Airbus A321 crashed 23 minutes after taking off from the Sharm el-Sheikh tourist resort nine 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. "We are 90pc sure it was a bomb."

devastating

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 auto-pilot, and that a noise had been heard in the last second of the cockpit recording.

However, he said it was too soon to draw conclusions.

Confirmation that militants brought down the plane 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.

It could also mark a new strategy by the hardline Islamic State group, which holds large parts of Syria and Iraq.

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

He said debris was scattered over a 13km 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," said Emirates Airlines president Tim Clark, referring to the crash of a Germanwings plane in the French Alps in March, flown into a mountain deliberately by its co-pilot.

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

Mr 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 security.

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

Islamic State militants fighting security forces in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula said they brought down the aircraft as revenge for Russian air strikes against Islamist fighters in Syria.

Stranded

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 Centre in September 2001.

Russia returned 11,000 of its tourists from Egypt over the weekend, a fraction of the 80,000 who were stranded by the Kremlin's decision on Friday to halt all flights to Egypt.

In St Petersburg, where the flight was headed, 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, said deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

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