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It's Possible Bomb Caused Russian Plane To Crash, Britain, U.S. Suggest


Hours after a Russian passenger jet crashed into the Sinai Peninsula last Saturday, an affiliate of the Islamic State took responsibility. Russia and Egypt dismissed that claim, but something led Britain’s prime minister and now President Obama to talk about a possible bombing. Their information, whatever it is, apparently comes from intelligence agencies. And for more, we’re joined by NPR’s Leila Fadel in London. Good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And what do you know of what caused Obama and Prime Minister Cameron to suspect a terrorist bomb?

FADEL: It’s not exactly clear what the information is that they do have. What we do know is that the British government and the U.S. government are looking at the same information. There have been leaks that there was a heat source spotted on satellite imagery just before the plane came down. And also the AP reported that a U.S. official said that there was some type of suspicious chatter between an Egyptian affiliate of the self-declared Islamic State. The British government has a lot more on the line than the U.S. does because of the number of British tourists there are in Sharm el-Sheikh, and it may explain why they decided to come out first saying, we think this was a bomb.

MONTAGNE: Well, as you say, the Russian plane that was carrying vacationers home from this place, Sharm el-Sheikh, that’s a popular beach resort there. Now, Cameron yesterday ordered a halt to all flights between Britain and Sharm el-Sheikh. Now originally, 20,000 vacationers or so have been stranded. What’s happening today?

FADEL: Well, today, flights have resumed from Sharm el-Sheikh back to the U.K. So basically, empty flights are heading over there from here and picking up stranded tourists. At least two of those flights have taken off. But, easyJet, one of the airliners, says that the Egyptians are restricting the number of flights that can actually bring tourists out. They originally had planned 10 flights. It looks like they’re only going to be able to fly two. The local Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry denies blocking any flights. But tourists are angry. They want to get home. They’ve been there since Wednesday. And they confronted the British ambassador when he arrived at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, asking what was going on.

MONTAGNE: And Egyptian authorities do, on another subject, Leila, recovered both black boxes, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. What’s known about their contents at this point?

FADEL: At this point, really very little is known about what the Egyptians have found on those black boxes. One of them, the data recorder, they’ve been able to get the information off of that recorder. But they haven’t been able to access the cockpit voice recorder because it’s been partially damaged. They say that will take longer. But they’ve been very cagey about what they’ve actually found. And they said publicly, we have not found evidence so far of an explosion on board.

MONTAGNE: Now coincidentally, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was in London yesterday. He met with Prime Minister Cameron, part of a long plan visit. Of course, tourism is a huge part of the Egyptian economy. It’s not been doing well in recent years. So how has he reacted to – Sisi, that is – reacted to all this speculation about terrorism bringing down a plane in the one sort of thriving tourist spot in Egypt?

FADEL: It made for quite an awkward visit, I imagine. At the press conference between Prime Minister Cameron and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Sisi said the British had called 10 months ago asking about security measures of Sharm el-Sheikh, examining the airport and saying, everything was fine. They were happy with it. The Egyptian government has really been angry about the claims. They say this is going to really devastate the tourism economy which is already struggling, as you say. They say that this is really premature, that the investigation hasn’t been completed, and there should not be a conjecture about what happened before they really know. And they’ve really dismissed claims by the self-declared Islamic State that they brought the plane down. They’ve dismissed claims of terrorism.

MONTAGNE: Right, and Egypt is controlling the investigation.

FADEL: That’s right.

MONTAGNE: NPR’s Leila Fadel in London, thanks very much.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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