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Egyptian official rejects IS-affiliate claims over Sinai jet crash

Security official says IS-linked group would have targeted Egyptian military jets if it had ability to bring down Russian passenger plane
The Airbus 321 broke up in mid air only 23 minutes after its departure to Saint Petersburg, Russia (AFP)

GAZA CITY - All pre-flight checks on a Russian passenger plane that broke up in mid-air over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday were carried out as normal, an Egyptian airport security official and the chairman of the state company that runs civilian airports has told Middle East Eye.

The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said he believed a Sinai-based affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group, which has claimed responsibility for the downing of the plane killing all 224 passengers onboard, was incapable of such an act and was using the incident strategically.

“Such groups take advantage of such incidents to prove they are powerful on the ground,” the official told MEE.

“Assuming they are right, why have they not targeted Egyptian or military flights during battle fights with Egyptian military?” he asked. “As far as I am aware, such a group has no weapons to reach an aircraft flying over 9,000 metres.”

Local security officials say a video posted by an IS-affiliated group over the weekend which showed footage of a plane plummeting from the air was not related to Sinai, but was in fact a flight in Pakistan.

The same plane, the airport security official told MEE, had suffered from past mechanical issues. “Most Russian private companies are not known for their good record of maintenance, especially on 18-year-old aircrafts in the business,” he said.

Speaking at a defence summit in Washington on Monday, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, said there was no "direct evidence of terrorist involvement" and said he believed it was unlikely that IS had brought down the jet, although he had not ruled it out.

In Moscow, Senior Kogalymavia, an executive for Metrojet, the airline operating the flight, said the plane had been in excellent condition and blamed the crash on "external action".

Adel Mahjoub, the chairman of the state company that runs Egypt’s civilian airports, confirmed that the flight was checked before departure and did not appear to have any problems.

Mahjoub told MEE that he would order his staff to bring videos of surveillance cameras showing the moments when the flight was supplied with fuel and meals.

Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Hossam Kamal, said in a press conference on Saturday that so far, there had been no sign of any problems on board the flight prior to the crash.

"Up until the crash happened, we were never informed of any faults in the plane, nor did we receive any SOS calls," he told reporters.

However, the Egyptian airport security official said that the pilot indicated in the last message to traffic control staff, that he had some problems with the telecommunication system.

The last deadly air jet crash in Egypt was in 2004 when 148 people, mostly French nationals, died in a Flash Airlines Boeing 737 which crashed after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh. Egyptian officials say that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Russian tourists presently in Egypt.

The Red Sea remains a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. According to Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency, two million Russian tourists visited Egypt in 2014.

Sinai is widely known as a restive area with tight restrictions.

A few days prior to the crash, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the expansion of another three-month state of emergency in most of Sinai as the fight against militant groups allied to IS continues.

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