Tuesday 27 September 2016

US embassy bars its staff from visiting the wreckage

Louisa Loveluck in Cairo

Published 04/11/2015 | 02:30

Russian emergency services personnel working at the crash site of a A321 Russian airliner in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Russian emergency services personnel working at the crash site of a A321 Russian airliner in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A Russian rescuer checking passports collected from the wreckage of the A321 Russian airliner in Wadi al-Zolomat, in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The wreckage of the A321 Russian airliner in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

THE American embassy in Egypt has banned its staff from travelling to the North Sinai, where the plane crashed.

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The area where Flight 7K9268 came down is in the north-east of Sinai, close to the border with Israel.

It is a quiet place, according to Nassrallah Mohamed, the head of Nakhl municipality Council.

"The inhabitants of the area are Bedouins who work in herding and there is no terrorism activities there," Mr Mohamed said.

But it is also under a tight grip by security services. The bedouins and army act in co-operation, but some locals are unhappy about it.

One man from Bee'r al Abd, the town near Arish, and the crash site, told how the security services demolished his house as they wanted to widen the road, and that he had no chance to even take his belongings with him.

"When I went to talk with the security guy to ask to take my belongings before demolishing the house, he pointed his gun at me and didn't give a chance even to talk," he said.

The security tension and clashes between the army and Islamic militants are focused in the north-east part of Sinai, between Arish city and Rafah, but the rest of Sinai is relatively safe.

The US embassy said the move was a precautionary measure, pending the outcome of the investigation into the disaster.

The British foreign office has said that the North Sinai area is out of bounds for all citizens - but travelling to areas in the south, for example, Sharm el-Sheikh, is safe.

The Sinai Province insurgent group holds no major towns and relies on cat-and-mouse tactics against the much stronger Egyptian military. Car bombs and drive-by attacks have killed hundreds of security forces personnel.

The group has benefited from the army's response, which has at times resembled a scorched earth policy, alienating residents and increasing jihadist sympathies.

If the jihadists' claim to have downed the plane proves false, it will not be the first time that their statements have stretched the truth. Sinai Province's account of a July 1 battle with the army in the town of Sheikh Zuwaid was vastly overblown.

The Egyptian government from the outset has pushed back on the causes of the air disaster, saying that it would not stoop to commenting on "speculation."

Abdel Hamid, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation ministry said that the reference to "external factors" could mean many things, "not only a bomb or a terrorist attack".

There is potential for Cairo and Moscow to argue over the outcome of the investigation because of the potential impacts of the findings.

A successful and devastating terrorist attack on tourists could prove a major embarrassment and disastrous for the Egyptian travel industry. For Russia, mechanical or human failure would raise difficult questions about the state of the national aviation industry, while a finding of terrorism could rally the public behind the air war against Islamists in Syria.

Jim Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, said that there was "no direct evidence of terrorist involvement yet".

Asked whether Isil could shoot down an aircraft, he said, "It's unlikely, but I wouldn't rule it out."

While insurgents in Sinai are believed to have shoulder-launched anti-aircraft rockets, or Manpads, Isil is not known to possess any sophisticated ground-to-air missile system capable shooting down an aircraft at an airliner's cruising altitude. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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