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Russia Suspends Flights To Egypt Following Sinai Plane Crash

  • RFE/RL

Tourists wait in line to try to catch flights home at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh after finishing their holidays in the Red Sea resort.

Tourists wait in line to try to catch flights home at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh after finishing their holidays in the Red Sea resort.

Russia has suspendеd all passenger flights to Egypt in the wake of the plane crash last week that killed 224 people, mostly Russian citizens.

The order by President Vladimir Putin on November 6 was the strongest sign оf concern from Moscow about the cause of the crash of the Kogalymavia/Metrojet Airbus A321.

Top U.S. and British officials have suggested a possible terrorist attack brought down the jet on October 31 over the Sinai Peninsula.

Both Egypt and Russia have insisted it is too early to draw conclusions, but the Kremlin said the decision to halt the flights was a precaution until the cause is determined and safety is ensured.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin has ordered the government to figure out how to return thousands of Russian citizens who are now stranded in Egypt, mainly at the popular Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

At an emergency meeting of Russia's antiterrorist committee, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, said the suspension would be "reasonable" pending the results of the investigation.

A source quoted by TASS said Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency, Rosaviatsia, received instructions from the Transport Ministry to maintain the suspension "until further notice, meaning the time when complaints are resolved on ensuring aviation safety in Egypt airports in accordance with international requirements."

The Airbus A321-200 went down over the Sinai about 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. Most of the 224 people killed were Russians, along with several Ukrainians and at least one Belarusian.

People mourn during the funeral of Timur Miller, a resident of Ulyanovsk and one of the victims of the plane crash in Egypt, at a cemetery in St. Petersburg on November 6.

People mourn during the funeral of Timur Miller, a resident of Ulyanovsk and one of the victims of the plane crash in Egypt, at a cemetery in St. Petersburg on November 6.

The Interfax news agency quoted Russian tourism officials as saying around 50,000 Russian tourists are currently in Egypt and said refunding canceled tickets to Egypt could bankrupt Russian tour operators.

Reuters on November 6 quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying that intercepted intelligence "chatter" supports the theory that a bomb brought down the jet.

Both the U.S. officials and officials in Europe cautioned that there wasn’t yet conclusive forensic evidence to support that theory, and that possible mechanical failure had not been ruled out.

"While we can't rule anything in or out, we have to consider the possibility for potential terrorist involvement," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on November 6. He emphasized that U.S. officials have not made their own determination into the cause.

Major airlines have announced the suspension of flights to Egypt, which will severely affect the country’s tourism industry.

Turkey announced the cancelation of Turkish Airlines fights, joining airlines from Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain, which has said a bomb planted by an Islamic State (IS) affiliate may have caused the crash.

A Sinai-based group affiliated with the IS militant group has claimed responsibility for the crash, which, if confirmed, would make it the first attack on civil aviation by the militant group or a proxy. The radical militants have has seized vast territory in Syria and Iraq.

Russia began a campaign of air strikes in Syria on September 30, ostensibly targeting Islamic State militants, but Western officials have said the Russian strikes are instead hitting moderate Syrian rebel groups fighting against President Bashar al-Assad, a close Moscow ally.

The United States, meanwhile, announced expanded security screenings for U.S-bound flights departing from regions near Egypt. Earnest said the measures will affect fewer than 10 airports in the area.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, TASS, and AP
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