Russia says bomb downed jet, Egypt cites no evidence
Kremlin's first time saying a bomb was the main reason behind the downing of a passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula
The Kremlin said for the first time on Tuesday that a bomb brought down a Russian passenger plane that crashed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing 224 people, but Cairo said its investigation had yet to find any evidence of criminal action.
Egypt’s government held its weekly meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh to show solidarity with a tourism industry hit by cancellations following the crash. The cabinet had already arrived in Sharm when Moscow made its announcement.
The prime minister and several members of the government, appearing at a news conference, would not be drawn into endorsing Russia’s conclusions.
“The Egyptian authorities affirm they will take into consideration the investigations that the Russian side reached ... in the comprehensive investigation,” Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said.
Interior Minister Magid Abdel Ghaffar, speaking at the same news conference, promised that if a security lapse were to blame for the crash the culprits would be punished. But he said it was too early to draw that conclusion.
“Regarding Sharm el-Sheikh airport, when we discover that there have been security lapses action will be taken, but up to now we have no information about lapses in the search and security procedures,” he said.
The minister added that Egyptian authorities had increased security at all airports and were now searching all bags, passengers and staff and conducting regular security sweeps.
Egypt was also allowing foreign experts to review security measures at its airports to ensure they met their standards.
Egypt has stopped short of denying that an attack brought down the plane, however, with the civil aviation and interior ministers saying all scenarios for the cause of the Oct. 31 crash were being investigated.
Russia had taken samples of sand from the crash site for analysis, sources at the civil aviation ministry confirmed, and Egypt would include the conclusions of that analysis in the official investigation once they had been formally received.
Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s FSB security service, said in televised comments that traces of foreign-made explosive had been found on fragments of the downed plane and on passengers’ personal belongings.
“We can unequivocally say it was a terrorist act,” Bortnikov said.
Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Hosam Kamel told the news conference the investigation had not reached a conclusion.
“Up until this moment, there is no evidence of crime,” he said.
Egypt boosts airport security
Egypt’s government said Tuesday it is bolstering security at airports.
“Taking into consideration all possible causes behind the plane crash, including the possibility that it was targeted by a terrorist attack, the Egyptian authorities have enhanced security measures in all airports,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
Egypt detains two airport staff
Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities have detained two employees of Sharm al-Sheikh airport in connection with the downing of the Russian airliner.
“Seventeen people are being held, two of them are suspected of helping whoever planted the bomb on the plane at Sharm al-Sheikh airport,” one of the officials said.
Egypt has not yet confirmed that a bomb was responsible, saying it wants to wait until all investigations are complete.
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 $7 billion a year and still a pillar of the economy despite having fallen sharply in recent years, will be further ravaged.
(With AFP, Reuters)