Wednesday 21 August 2019

Russia suspends all passenger flights to Egypt

A Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations plane carrying the bodies of victims of a plane crash, lands at Pulkovo airport outside St Petersburg. (AP)
A Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations plane carrying the bodies of victims of a plane crash, lands at Pulkovo airport outside St Petersburg. (AP)
UK ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, talks to British tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh airport (AP)
KLM said the measure is 'based on national and international information and out of precaution'

Russia has suspended all passenger flights to Egypt.

The move comes after days of resisting US and British suggestions that a bomb may have brought down a Russian plane in the Sinai Peninsula last week.

The suspension is a heavy blow to both countries' tourism sectors amid fears about security in Egypt.

Tens of thousands of travellers are struggling to return home from Red Sea resorts including Sharm el-Sheikh, where the flight originated.

Within hours of the October 31 crash of the Metrojet Airbus 321-200 that killed all 224 on board, a faction of the Islamic State militant group claimed to have downed the plane in retaliation for Moscow's airstrikes that began a month earlier against fighters in Syria.

The claim was initially dismissed on the grounds that the IS affiliate in Egypt's troubled Sinai region did not have missiles capable of hitting high-flying planes.

British and US officials, guided by intelligence and satellite imagery, suggested a bomb might have been on board the aircraft.

After the UK suspended its flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh, Prime Minister David Cameron said it was "more likely than not" that the cause was a bomb.

President Barack Obama also said the US was taking "very seriously" the possibility that a bomb brought down the plane in the Sinai.

As the suspicions grew, Russia appeared unwilling to countenance the possibility, and Egyptian officials played down terrorism as a cause of the crash, with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi calling the IS claim "propaganda" designed to embarrass his government.

But the head of Russian intelligence, Alexander Bortnikov, has now recommended a suspension of all flights to Egypt "until we determine the real reasons of what happened", and President Vladimir Putin agreed.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the flight suspension order would last until "a proper level of aviation security is in place", denying it run until the investigation was completed. He added that it "definitely doesn't mean" Russia regards terrorism as the main theory.

Wreckage from the plane was brought to Moscow to be tested for any trace of explosives, according to emergency situations minister Vladimir Puchkov. The samples came "from all parts where traces of explosives could be", he said.

France 2 TV, citing an investigator who had access to one of the Metrojet plane's flight recorders, reported that "the sound of an explosion can be distinctly heard during the flight". France's BEA accident investigation agency said it could not confirm the report.

PA Media

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