Russia doubts ISIS claim that it shot down airliner

Egyptian authorities found the Russian plane's black box as relatives of the crash's 224 victims mourned the disaster back home

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Moscow cast doubt Saturday on claims by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group’s Egyptian affiliate to have downed a Russian passenger jet that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people onboard.

“This information cannot be considered accurate,” transport minister Maksim Sokolov said in comments cited by Russian news agencies.

“We are in close contact with our Egyptian colleagues and aviation authorities in the country. At present, they have no information that would confirm such insinuations,” he added.

Meanwhile, Egypt has recovered the black box of a Russian airliner that crashed Saturday in the restive Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, the prime minister’s office said.

“The black box was recovered from the tail of the plane and has been sent to be analysed by experts,” the office of Prime Minister Sharif Ismail said, adding that rescuers had recovered 129 bodies from the site of the crash.

The prime minister added that it was impossible to determine the cause of the Russian plane crash until the black box was examined but that no “irregular” activities were believed to be behind it, Reuters reported.

The ISIS affiliate, which is waging a deadly insurgency in the Sinai, had circulated a statement on social media claiming responsibility for the crash, saying it brought down the aircraft in revenge for Russian air strikes against militants in Syria.

“The soldiers of the caliphate succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane in Sinai,” its statement said.

Several military experts contacted by AFP said it was unlikely that ISIS militants in Sinai would have missiles capable of shooting down a plane flying at 30,000 feet.

But they did not discount the possibility that a bomb may have been planted on the plane, or that it could have been hit by a rocket or missile as it lost height due to technical problems.

The plane - an Airbus A321-200 operated by Russian carrier Kogalymavia - also known as Metrojet - had reportedly split in two. Other bodies had been found strapped to their seats.

An Egyptian security officer at the site told Reuters by telephone that his team extracted "at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside," the officer, who requested anonymity, said.

Earlier, Egyptian rescue team reportedly heard voices from the plane, raising hopes that some might still be alive.

Most of the passengers on board are believed to be Russian tourists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian rescue teams to visit the site of the crash, while Egypt's prosecutor general has ordered an investigation.

Russian officials began searching the Moscow offices of Kogalymavia, and have seized documents, Russian state TV reported.

"Military planes have discovered the wreckage of the plane... in a mountainous area, and 45 ambulances have been directed to the site to evacuate dead and wounded," a cabinet statement said earlier.

Putin declared a day of mourning after the incident in Egypt.

The cause of the crash is not yet known. Kogalymavia said that it saw no grounds to blame human error for the crash of one of its airliners in Egypt, Russian news agencies reported.

RIA and Interfax news agencies cited an airline spokeswoman saying that the pilot had 12,000 hours flying experience. She also said that the plane had been fully serviced.

Earlier on Friday, Egyptian air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft shortly after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to head to Russia, aviation sources told Reuters news agency earlier.

The plane was at an altitude of 31,000 feet when it vanished from radar screens, the civilian aviation ministry said in a statement.

[With Reuters and AFP]