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First British Tourists Leave Egypt, As Questions About Airline Crash Linger

An EasyJet agent talks to tourists stranded at Sharm el-Sheik's airport in Egypt Friday. The airline's plans to operate at least 10 flights out of the resort today were hampered by delays.
Thomas Hartwell

Two days after all flights between Britain and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, were suspended, the first of some 20,000 British tourists who were stranded at the Red Sea resort are on their way home. Egyptian officials are restricting the number of flights, after initially canceling all of them, according to U.K. carrier EasyJet.

The development comes one day after President Obama said that "there is a possibility that there was a bomb on board" the Russian Airbus that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last weekend. Also on Thursday, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said the jet had "more likely than not" been taken down by a bomb.

Today, British investigators tell the BBC that they "believe a bomb was put in the hold prior to take-off," the news agency reports.

Update at 9:05 a.m. ET: Russia Halts Flights To Egypt

Noting the uncertainty over what happened to the crashed airliner, Russia's security service director says, "It would be reasonable to stop Russian aviation flights to Egypt," according to state-run Tass media.

President Vladimir Putin agreed with that assessment and is halting flights to Egypt, Tass reports.

Despite precautions taken by other nations since Saturday's tragic crash, Russia had resumed airline service to Egypt.

Our original post continues:

As of midday Friday (local time), one EasyJet flight from Sharm el-Sheikh to Britain had already taken off, with another pending, the airline says on its website. The airline adds that eight of its scheduled flights are still not authorized to leave Sharm el-Sheikh's airport.

The situation has caused confusion, particularly at the crowded Egyptian airport.

"EasyJet gave no reason for the ban," Larry Miller reports from London for NPR's Newscast unit. "A diplomatic spat between the U.K. and Egypt was one suggestion. At the airport, the British ambassador was accosted by angry travelers demanding to know why they weren't going home, but he refused to respond while the cameras were rolling."

Another British airline, Monarch, has canceled all Sharm el-Sheikh flights through next Thursday. The airline plans to get five flights out of the resort's airport today.

Since Saturday's crash, several airlines have been avoiding the Sinai Peninsula. Today, French-Dutch airline KLM announced that "based on national and international information and out of precaution KLM will not allow checkin luggage" for passengers flying from Cairo.

Multiple investigations are under way to determine what brought Metrojet Flight 9268 down with 224 people aboard, with competing theories being offered by officials in Russia, Egypt, the U.S. and Britain.

Officials in Russia and and Egypt have said claims that terrorists brought down the plane are mere speculation. On the day of the crash, Russian authorities raided the airline's headquarters and opened a criminal case against it, while also dismissing claims by an ISIS affiliate in Egypt that it had downed Flight 9268.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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