By Ahmed Abbas
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi dismissed claims that militant groups in Sinai were able to target the Russian Metrojet plane, which crashed on Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard.
He described the claims as “propaganda”.
“When there is propaganda that [the Russian plane] crashed because of [“Islamic State”], this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt,” said Al-Sisi to the BBC during his meeting with British media prior to his visit to the UK. He also noted that this limited area is “under full control”.
The Russian official news agency, TASS, quoted anonymous sources from Cairo as saying that the experts have found some components on site that are not part of the Russian airplane.
The owners of the crashed A-321 Metrojet plane blamed an “external force” for the crash in Sinai. Company officials said that neither human error nor technical failure could have caused the crash.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Pilot Adham Hassan believes that the Russian company is simply refraining from taking responsibility. “The company is not an investigation point, and they don’t have any information about what could have exactly happened,” said Hassan.
He added that the sudden acceleration from the acute drop of 6,000 feet in only one minute could have been the reason why the pilot did not have the time to report anything. “Imagine yourself falling down with a speed of 650 km/h, can you think of anything? This acceleration would kill any human being due to the pressure change,” he said.
Russian news agency Interfax quoted on Tuesday officials in Cairo as saying that “there was a sudden emergency situation on board which took the crew by surprise, and the pilots did not have time to send a distress signal”.
Hassan said he can also guess from photos of the crash site that the sudden drop began with the sudden separation of tail components (rudder, vertical stabiliser, horizontal stabiliser). He believes that only a rickety fuselage or an explosion from the inside could have led to this separation.
A Middle East analyst on Sinai, Zack Gold, dismissed the claims of a terrorist attack from Sinai, saying that it is clear that the “State of Sinai” militant group does not possess the capability of targeting a plane at this altitude.
“The only way the group could have been responsible is if it managed to get an explosive on the plane, either by designing an undetectable IED or by infiltrating the Sharm El-Sheikh airport. If the Islamic State had the former capability, one wonders why this would be the first time it is used,” he said. He stressed that this is a very small possibility and does not rely on any evidence.
Lufthansa, Air France and major Gulf airlines announced that they will bypass flying over Sinai until the reason for the crash is uncovered. “The airlines avoiding Sinai airspace seem to be overly cautious, as there are no weapons in the peninsula that could hit a plane at cruising altitude,” said Gold.
Meanwhile, Hassan believes this is a normal security precaution in such cases. “They just want to make sure that no terrorist act could be the reason,” he said, stressing that those companies will return to their normal flight paths after investigations conclude, as re-routing requires more fuel consumption and more spending.
Nevertheless, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry criticised the decision of international airlines changing their routes. In an interview with Algerian TV, Shoukry described the decision as “irresponsible”, one that could lead to assumptions of “other” reasons behind the crash, besides the technical failure.
The US embassy warned its staff Tuesday against travelling to Sinai, however describing the step as a “precautionary measure”. The embassy said in its statement that it will inform the staff when the security measure is lifted.