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'90 Percent' Certainty Russian Plane Downed By Bomb

Debris from the crashed Russian jet lies strewn across the sand at the site of the crash in the Sinai.
Debris from the crashed Russian jet lies strewn across the sand at the site of the crash in the Sinai.

An official with the investigation into the crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt has said it was likely caused by a bomb.

The Airbus A321 crashed 23 minutes after taking off from the Sharm al-Sheikh tourist resort on October 31, killing all 224 passengers and crew. Islamic State militants fighting Egyptian security forces in the 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 due to sensitivities. "We are 90 percent sure it was a bomb."

His comments to the Reuters news agency on November 8 come a day after the lead Egyptian investigator said that the aircraft had broken up in midair while it was on autopilot, and that a noise could be heard in the last second of the cockpit black box recorder. He declined, however, to say what caused the crash, saying investigators were still gathering information.

U.S. and British officials have cited intelligence reports as indicating that the flight from the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg was brought down by a bomb on board.

Representative Adam Schiff, a top Democrat on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, said in a TV interview on November 8 that if it was indeed a bombing carried out by Islamic State affiliates, then it would have "fully eclipsed Al-Qaeda as the gravest terrorist threat in the world."

Russia announced on November 6 that it was suspending flights to all of Egypt, joining the United Kingdom and Ireland, which had stopped flights to Sharm el-Sheikh. At least half a dozen Western European governments have told their citizens not to travel there.

Around 80,000 Russians are estimated to be in Egypt, mainly in the Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada resorts. Nearly 17,0000 Britons are also still stranded in Egypt.

According to the AP news agency, security officials at Sharm el-Sheikh airport have long complained of lax security practices, such as malfunctioning baggage screening devices, poor searches at the entry gate for airplane food and fuel, and poorly paid policemen conducting the carry-on X-rays who can easily be bribed.

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, mourners filled St. Isaac’s Cathedral for a memorial service for the victims of the plane crash.

The bell of the world’s fourth-largest cathedral tolled one time for each of the 224 victims as a chamber choir sang.

Most of the victims were from St. Petersburg or other areas of northwest Russia.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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