While American officials discuss terrorist bombing scenarios as a “possibility” for the crash of a Russian jetliner over Egypt on October 31, and President Obama has used that word in his public comments so far, CNN reports intelligence agencies are increasingly confident of this diagnosis. One official, speaking off the record, said it was “99.9 percent certain” that a terrorist bomb brought the plane down.
Russian investigators have joined British experts and Egyptian security in examining both the site of the crash and the flight’s point of origin, the airport in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort community. According to CNN, a team of Russian experts is conducting security checks at the airport, particularly the “pre-departure area,” which would presumably include baggage handling.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said two more groups of security experts were en route from Moscow, and would check “all major airports in Egypt.”
The UK Telegraph finds the investigation expanding beyond the airport, with Egyptian authorities questioning maids, porters, and other staff at hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh. The police are said to be investigating the possibility that “someone with access to the hotel rooms of Russian tourists could have secreted a bomb in a suitcase.”
Although security has been greatly enhanced at the airport, the Telegraph mentions that repatriation of 12,000 stranded British tourists has been delayed by concerns over security for the mountain of luggage piled up at the airport. The Russians are reportedly using military transport planes to bring their citizens’ luggage home from Egypt.
Another significant detail provided by anonymous U.S. sources to CNN is that some of the intelligence intercepts pertaining to the crash were provided by Israeli intelligence, which has been monitoring the rise of ISIS-aligned extremists in the Sinai. CNN observes that Egyptian reluctance to accept Israeli information “could be an impediment to intelligence sharing over the crash.”
However, Reuters quotes an unnamed Egyptian investigator using almost the same language as CNN’s American source: “The indications and analysis so far of the sound on the black box indicate it was a bomb. We are 90 percent sure it was a bomb.” The other, far more unlikely, possibilities floated by the Egyptian government include a fuel explosion, metal fatigue in the airframe, or lithium batteries overheating.
As several other sources have reported, CNN says some of these intercepts captured ISIS militants discussing the bombing among themselves, including specific chatter about the weapon that was used.
House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) said “all indicators are pointing to the fact that it was an ISIS putting a bomb on an airplane,” during an appearance on Fox News Sunday.
He said he had a “high degree of confidence” in the bomb attack scenario, which matched his “gut feeling” all along, and matched up with intelligence reports and flight data from the plane.
“This is comparable to 9/11 for Russia,” Rep. McCaul declared.