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EgyptAir crash likely caused by attack: Egyptian aviation minister

Amid conflicting reports over whether debris from flight found, minister says terror attack more likely cause of crash than technical fault
Family members of passengers on board the EgyptAir flight from Paris gather outside Cairo airport (AFP)

The crash of an EgyptAir flight en route from Paris to Cairo on Thursday morning was "most likely the result of a terrorist attack," Egypt's aviation minister said shortly before reports emerged that wreckage from the flight carrying 66 people had been found.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, meanwhile, demanded an "intensified search" for the airliner.

Aviation minister Sherif Fathy said investigators are probing why the overnight flight from Paris to Cairo crashed and are looking at the passenger list to see who was on board.

"I don't deny the hypothesis of a terrorist attack or something technical. It is too early," he said.

"The possibility of having a different action onboard, of having a terror attack, it is higher than the possibility of having a technical [failure]".

An unidentified senior US intelligence official told NBC News that there were strong indications from infrared and multi-spectral imagers that an explosion had occured on board the flight. 

"Now, the question is, if there was an explosion, what caused it? Mechanical failure? Explosives? No idea at this point," the official was quoted as saying. 

The incident has raised fears of a repeat of the bombing of a Russian passenger jet by the Islamic State (IS) militant group over Egypt last October that killed all 224 people on board.

Conflicting wreckage reports

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi demanded an "intensified search" for the aircraft after reports that wreckage from the plane had been found were retracted.

EgyptAir initially said on its Twitter account that the Egyptian authorities had recovered wreckage from the missing aircraft No. MS 804 near Greece's Karpathos Island.

But the head of the Greek air safety authority, Athanasios Binis, told AFP that debris found close to the area where the jet went down did "not come from a plane," a finding he said was confirmed by his Egyptian counterpart.

EgyptAir Holding Company vice president Ahmed Adel then corrected his company's statement, telling CNN that the debris that were spotted were "not part of our plane".

Ships and aircraft from Egypt, France and Greece took part in search operations on Thursday, helped by at least eight merchant ships in the area.The US said it will send naval forces to join the effort.

France also said it was sending three inivestigators and a technical expert from Airbus to join the probe into the crash.

Thirty Egyptians, including a young boy and two babies, and 15 French nationals were on board along with passengers from Iraq, Britain, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada. 

With the reasons for the plane's disappearance still unknown, Tony Cable, a retired air accident expert who investigated the 1988 Lockerbie air disaster, told Middle East Eye that initial investigations would likely focus on security at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport where the flight took off.

Security at Charles de Gaulle was already heightened after last November's IS-claimed attacks in Paris and then boosted further in March in the wake of attacks in Belgium.

"Like all investigations, the Egyptian and international authorities will start with the information they have available, and for now that will primarily be radar data and any messages from the aircraft,” Cable said.

Emergency centres were established early on Thursday at Paris's main airport, with representatives of the airline and the Egyptian embassy attending, and also at Cairo airport where relatives of the passengers gathered.

An MEE contributor in Cairo said that the families were taken to a nearby building that was guarded by police. 

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