Bomb by ISIS likely caused Russian plane crash: Security sources

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U.S. Officials: Bomb May Have Brought Down Russian Plane

NEW YORK/LONDON/CAIRO (Reuters) -- Evidence now suggests that a bomb planted by the Islamic State militant group is the likely cause of last weekend's crash of a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai peninsula, U.S. and European security sources said on Wednesday.

Islamic State, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria and is battling the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula, said again on Wednesday it brought down the airplane, adding it would eventually tell the world how it carried out the attack.

The Airbus A321M crashed on Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on its way to the Russian city of St Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board.

The U.S. and European security sources stressed they had reached no final conclusions about the crash.

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Bomb by ISIS likely caused Russian plane crash: Security sources
In this photo made available Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, and provided by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, Egyptian Military on cars approach a plane's tail at the wreckage of a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims killed in a plane crash in Egypt home to St. Petersburg, a city awash in grief for its missing residents. (Maxim Grigoriev/Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations via AP)
In this Russian Emergency Situations Ministry photo, made available on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, Russian Emergency Ministry experts work at the crash site of a Russian passenger plane bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. A Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims home to St. Petersburg, from Egypt.(Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations photo via AP)
In this Russian Emergency Situations Ministry photo, made available on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015 Egyptian soldiers collect personal belongings of plane crash victims at the crash site of a passenger plane bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. A Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims home to St. Petersburg, from Egypt.(Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations photo via AP)
In this Russian Emergency Situations Ministry photo, made available on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, Russian Emergency Ministry experts work at the crash site of a Russian passenger plane bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. A Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims home to St. Petersburg, from Egypt.(Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations photo via AP)
Debris belonging to the A321 Russian airliner are seen at the site of the crash in Wadi el-Zolmat, a mountainous area in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on November 1, 2015. International investigators began probing why a Russian airliner carrying 224 people crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, as rescue workers widened their search for missing victims. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Debris of a Russian airplane is seen at the site a day after the passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg, Russia, crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Metrojet plane, bound for St. Petersburg in Russia, crashed 23 minutes after it took off from Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday morning. The 224 people on board, all Russian except for four Ukrainians and one Belarusian, died. (AP Photo)
In this photo made available Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, and provided by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, Egyptian Military experts examine a piece of an engine at the wreckage of a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims killed in a plane crash in Egypt home to St. Petersburg, a city awash in grief for its missing residents. (Maxim Grigoriev/Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations via AP)
A Russian investigator walks near wreckage a day after a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg, Russia, crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Metrojet plane, bound for St. Petersburg in Russia, crashed 23 minutes after it took off from Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday morning. The 224 people on board, all Russian except for four Ukrainians and one Belarusian, died. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
A helicopter of the Egyptian security forces fly over the site a day after a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg, Russia, crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Metrojet plane, bound for St. Petersburg in Russia, crashed 23 minutes after it took off from Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday morning. The 224 people on board, all Russian except for four Ukrainians and one Belarusian, died. (AP Photo)
In this photo taken Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015 and provided by Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations Monday, Nov. 2, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov, left, talks with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, fifth right, as they inspect the wreckage of a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt. A Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims killed in the plane crash in Egypt home to St. Petersburg, a city awash in grief for its missing residents. (Maxim Grigoriev/Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations via AP)
In this photo made available Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, and provided by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, Egyptian Military on cars approach a plane's tail at the wreckage of a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims killed in a plane crash in Egypt home to St. Petersburg, a city awash in grief for its missing residents. (Maxim Grigoriev/Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations via AP)
SUEZ, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 01: A plane part is seen as the Egyptian officials inspect the crash site of Russian Airliner in Suez, Egypt on November 01, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on yesterday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane had been lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Alaa El Kassas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Debris of the A321 Russian airliner lie on the ground a day after the plane crashed in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on November 1, 2015. International investigators began probing why the Russian airliner carrying 224 people crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, as rescue workers widened their search for missing victims. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian investigators stand near debris, luggage and personal effects of passengers a day after a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Metrojet plane crashed 23 minutes after it took off from Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday morning. The 224 people on board, all Russian except for four Ukrainians and one Belarusian, died. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Debris of the A321 Russian airliner lie on the ground a day after the plane crashed in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on November 1, 2015. International investigators began probing why the Russian airliner carrying 224 people crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, as rescue workers widened their search for missing victims. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 01: Egyptian officials inspect the crash site of Russian Airliner in Suez, Egypt on November 01, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on yesterday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane had been lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Alaa El Kassas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 01: Egyptian officials inspect the crash site of Russian Airliner in Suez, Egypt on November 01, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on yesterday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane had been lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Alaa El Kassas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Members of the Egyptian security forces stand guard at the site a day after a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg, Russia crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Metrojet plane, bound for St. Petersburg in Russia, crashed 23 minutes after it took off from Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday morning. The 224 people on board, all Russian except for four Ukrainians and one Belarusian, died. (AP Photo)
CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Ambulances bring the bodies of the victims found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Zinhoum Hospital's Morgue in Cairo, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Ambulances bring the bodies of the victims found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Zinhoum Hospital's Morgue in Cairo, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Ambulances bring the bodies of the victims found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Zinhoum Hospital's Morgue in Cairo, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Ambulances bring the bodies of the victims found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Zinhoum Hospital's Morgue in Cairo, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Egyptian ambulance arrives to Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015, after victims of a Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula were brought to the base before being transported to a morgue. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian paramedics load the corpses of Russian victims of a Russian passenger plane crash in the Sinai Peninsula, into a military plane at Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Egyptian officials receives the corpses of 34 passengers, found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Kabret Military Base in Suez, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Mostafa El Shemy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Egyptian ambulances line up at Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015, after victims of a Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula were brought to the base before being transported to a morgue. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An Egyptian ambulance waits at Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015, after victims of a Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula were brought to the base before being transported to a morgue. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Egyptian officials receives the corpses of 34 passengers, found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Kabret Military Base in Suez, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Alaa El Kassas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Egyptian ambulances carrying the corpses of Russian victims of a Russian passenger plane crash in the Sinai Peninsula, off load the bodies into a military aircraft at Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard, next to graffiti condemning police brutality, outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
ALTERNATIVE CROP - In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, The Russian airline Kogalymaviaâs Airbus A321 with a tail number of EI-ETJ on an airstrip of Moscowâs Domodedovo international airport, outside Moscow, Russia. Russia's civil air agency is expected to have a news conference shortly to talk about the Russian Metrojet passenger plane EI-ETJ, that Egyptian authorities say has crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula. (AP Photo/Tatiana Belyakova)
Map locates area in Egypt where a Russian airliner crashed Saturday; 3c x 4 inches; 146 mm x 101 mm;
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Britain on Wednesday cited the likely possibility of an explosive device as the cause of the crash, but made no mention of any group that may have been responsible.

"We have concluded that there is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft," Britain's foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said after a meeting of the government's crisis response committee chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Hammond's remarks came as Britain prepares to host a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi this week.

Egypt, a close ally of the United States and the most populous Arab country, dismissed a similar claim of responsibility for the crash by Islamic State on Saturday.

"It is believed to be an explosion but what kind is not clear. There is an examination of the sand at the crash site to try and determine if it was a bomb," said an Egyptian source who is close to the team investigating the black boxes.

"There are forensic investigations underway at the crash site. That will help determine the cause, to see if traces of explosives are found."

Sisi has described Islamist militancy as an existential threat to the Arab world and the West and has repeatedly called for greater international efforts to combat the militants.

Hammond said Britain is "advising against all but essential travel by air through Sharm el-Sheikh airport. That means that there will be no UK passenger flights out to Sharm el-Sheikh from now."

Remarks earlier on Wednesday by Britain's Cameron, who was due to hold talks in London with Sisi on Thursday, of concerns "the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device" drew criticism from Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

He told CNN he was "somewhat surprised" by the British statement.

"This is a matter for the investigation to clarify and we should not prejudge or take any measures that might have implications," Shoukry said. "Implication also that the fact that a very large number of Egyptians who rely heavily on the tourist industry."

Britain said it was working with airlines and Egyptian authorities to put in place additional security and screening measures to allow Britons in Sharm el-Sheikh to get home, but that would take time and there would be no flights returning from the resort on Thursday.

"SOMETHING STOWED" ON BOARD

A Russian aviation official said the investigation was looking into the possibility of an object stowed on board causing the disaster.

"There are two versions now under consideration: something stowed inside (the plane) and a technical fault. But the airplane could not just break apart in the air – there should be some action. A rocket is unlikely as there are no signs of that," the Russian official said.

Security experts and investigators have said the plane is unlikely to have been struck from the outside and Sinai-based militants are not believed to possess the technology to shoot down a jet from a cruising altitude above 30,000 feet.

Any evidence that a bomb knocked the plane out of the sky would deal a heavy blow to tourism in Egypt, a pillar of the economy that is struggling to recover after years of political turmoil, and would also undermine Sisi's assertions that Cairo has brought under control Sinai Province's insurgency.

Sinai Province has killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police since Sisi, as army chief, toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Sisi was elected president last year on promises he would stabilize Egypt and rebuild its shattered economy. Critics say his tough crackdown on Islamists will only create more radicals in Egypt, which has fought militants for decades.

REVENGE FOR RUSSIAN AIRSTRIKES?

Investigators have extracted and validated the contents of the flight data recorder, one of two so-called black boxes recovered from the Russian plane, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said.

The ministry said the second black box, which contains the cockpit voice recorder, was partially damaged and much work was required to extract data from it.

Sinai Province has said it had brought down the airliner "in response to Russian air strikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land."

In an audio message posted on a Twitter account used by the group, Islamic State's Egyptian affiliate insisted on Wednesday it was behind the crash. The claim could not immediately be authenticated.

"We, with God's grace, are the ones who brought it down, and we are not obliged to disclose the mechanism of its demise," the speaker said.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on Sept. 30. The hardline group has called for war against both Russia and the United States in response to their air strikes in Syria.

Late on Wednesday the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) directed all Irish airlines on Wednesday not to fly to or from the Sinai Peninsula until further notice. The Russian-operated plane was registered in Ireland and the IAA is taking part in the official investigation into the crash.

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