Russia and Egypt are disputing suggestions from American and British intelligence that a bomb, planted by ISIS or an affiliated group, brought down a Russian jetliner over the Sinai Peninsula.
“One cannot rule out a single theory, but at this point there are no reasons to voice just one theory as reliable — only investigators can do that,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, as quoted by the Associated Press.
The BBC reports Peskov saying any explanations put forward at the present time “seem like unverified information of some sort of speculation.”
The Russians are said to be taking the possibility of a bomb seriously, but their investigation will take several months to complete. The AP quotes top Russian aviation official Alexander Neradko saying in a television interview that “investigators are pursuing several theories as to why the plane crashed” and are looking for explosive residue on the bodies of victims and debris from the plane.
British Prime Minister David Cameron repeated statements from his foreign office that the crash was “more likely than not” caused by a bomb on Thursday. The Russians asked Britain to promptly provide any evidence they have for that belief and said it was “shocking” they had not already done so.
The AP notes that evidence alluded to in remarks by American and British officials includes intercepted communications between ISIS militants in Sinai, along with satellite observations of the plane that showed a bloom of heat consistent with an explosion.
The Egyptians even more forcefully rejected U.S. and U.K. theories about a terrorist bombing. Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdough Eldamaty declared on Thursday that the crash “is not a terror act — it was an accident.”
Eldamaty said investigations should be completed before any other conclusions were drawn, advice echoed by Egyptian Minister of Civil Aviation Hossam Kamal, who said the investigation team “does not have yet any evidence or data” confirming the hypothesis about a bomb.
“We do not want to rush into conclusions,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the BBC, shortly before meeting with Prime Minister Cameron in London. “We all share the same concerns. We want to know the reasons behind it. The investigation will be disclosed with all transparency, we have nothing to hide.”
The political and economic consequences of a terrorist attack—in fact, the deadliest airplane attack since 9/11—would be enormous for both Russia and Egypt. Russian President Vladimir Putin would face turmoil at home, if it were determined that ISIS was able to destroy a Russian passenger jet in retaliation for his military involvement in Syria.
Egypt’s vital tourist industry is on the line. The AP notes that a flight ban after the Russian Metrojet crash left thousands of British tourists stranded, probably until Friday at the earliest. Some of those stranded visitors expressed fears that Egyptian tourism might not recover, if the plane crash is found to be an act of terrorism.
Temporary Egyptian flight bans from German and Belgian airlines have also been announced, while the Netherlands has advised its citizens to avoid traveling to Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh airport, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Metrojet airline has announced the suspension of all flights by the same model of airplane as the one that crashed, the Airbus A321, lending support to Russian claims that the crash was a technical malfunction, rather than a terrorist attack. Some Russian politicians have suggested Britain’s flight ban is part of a political effort to embarrass Russia, in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Syria.