Days after authorities dismissed claims that ISIS brought down a Russian passenger jet, a U.S. intelligence analysis now suggests that the terror group or its affiliates planted a bomb on the plane.
And the office of British Prime Minister David Cameron says the plane “may well have been brought down by an explosive device.”
Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed Saturday in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after breaking apart in midair, killing all 224 people on board. It was en route to St. Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The latest U.S. intelligence suggests that the plane crash was most likely caused by a bomb on the plane planted by ISIS or an ISIS affiliate, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.
“There is a definite feeling it was an explosive device planted in luggage or somewhere on the plane,” the official said, stressing that no formal conclusion had been reached by the U.S. intelligence community.
The assessment was reached, the official said, by looking back at intelligence reports that had been gathered before Saturday’s plane crash and intelligence gathered since then. The United States did not have credible or verified intelligence of a specific threat before the crash. However, the official said, “there had been additional activity in Sinai that had caught our attention.”
Another U.S. official said the intelligence regarding ISIS is in part based on monitoring of internal messages of the terrorist group. Those messages are separate from public ISIS claims of responsibility, that official said.
Britain, Ireland suspend flights from Egyptian resort city
News of the U.S. intelligence analysis comes hours after British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said a bomb might have caused the crash.
“While the investigation is still ongoing, we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed,” the Prime Minister’s office said. “But as more information has come to light, we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.”
Flights due to leave Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the United Kingdom were being delayed his office said, as a precautionary measure to allow British aviation experts to assess security arrangements at the city’s airport, Cameron’s office said in its statement.
Ireland also said Wednesday that it was suspending all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh until further notice, according to a statement from the Irish Aviation Authority.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called the British decision to suspend flights “somewhat premature,” as the investigation is not complete.
“We can appreciate, of course, the sense of responsibility and desire to provide protection to UK citizens. This is a desire that we equally share,” he told CNN shortly after the British government’s announcement. “But I think it is somewhat premature to make declarations related to what might or might not have happened to the aircraft before the investigation is completed and before there is a definitive cause for this crash.”
Sharm el-Sheikh, where Flight 9268 began its journey, is a beach resort dotted with palm trees at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The plane crashed about 300 kilometers (185 miles) farther north, near a town called Housna, according to Egyptian authorities.
Sinai has been a battleground between ISIS-affiliated militants and Egyptian security forces in recent years. Hundreds have died in the fighting.
The militants appeared to claim responsibility for bringing down the Russian passenger jet in a statement posted online Saturday, but officials in Egypt and Russia have disputed that claim, saying there’s no evidence to support it.
ISIS in Sinai is one of the most active of all the ISIS affiliates and has bomb-making capabilities, according to U.S. intelligence. But if the group did plant a bomb on the plane, it would represent an increase in sophistication.
The officials say ISIS has not proved to be nearly as advanced with bomb-making capabilities as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that U.S. national security officials believed were working on nonmetallic bombs to be smuggled onto planes.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry said it wasn’t stepping up security in Sharm el-Sheikh or at the resort city’s airport “because there is no indication (the plane crash) was a terrorist operation.”
But the U.S. Embassy in Cairo has sent a security message to its employees, instructing them not to travel anywhere in Sinai pending the outcome of the crash investigation.