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Flight data 'suggests blast brought down Russian passenger jet'

Sources close to investigation say sound of explosion indicates plane that crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula met a 'violent, sudden' end
A handout picture by Russia's Emergency Ministry shows the wreckage of a A321 Russian airliner in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula (AFP)

Flight data retrieved from a Russian passenger plane that crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula shortly after leaving Sharm el-Sheikh suggests an explosion occurred onboard, French media sources reported on Friday, amid growing suspicions that a bomb may have brought down the plane.

Egypt's aviation ministry and the head of the Egyptian-led investigation into the crash of flight KGL9268 held a press conference on Saturday, although countries including Russia and the UK have already suspended flights to and from the Red Sea resort because of security concerns.

The head of the Egyptian technical committee Ayman el-Mokkadem, who is investigating the crash, confirmed that the recording from the plane's black box reveals a sound in the last second of the recording.

"Initial observations... do not allow for identifying the origin of the in-flight break-up" of the Airbus A-321 last Saturday 23 minutes and 14 seconds after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

It is not clear however what the sound indicates. 

"The sound is not the only evidence - we need to have a lot of evidence to indicate that something specific happened," added Mokkadem.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said earlier that there was still no "hypothesis" as to what had caused last Saturday's crash in which all 224 people aboard the Saint Petersburg-bound Metrojet flight were killed.

Speaking at press conference on Saturday, Shoukry also complained that foreign intelligence about the possible causes of the crash had not been provided to the Egyptian security services.

"The information we have heard about has not been shared with Egyptian security agencies in detail. We were expecting that the technical information would be provided to us,” Shoukry said.

But a source close to the investigation told the AFP news agency that data retrieved frm the flight recorder "strongly favours" the theory a bomb on board brought down the plane.

Another person close to the case in Paris said the plane had suffered "a violent, sudden" end, saying: "Everything was normal during the flight, absolutely normal, and suddenly there was nothing."

Meanwhile, US security sources reported that satellites had picked up a "flash" from the plane, further pointing to an explosion. Intelligence sources also reportedly pick up "chatter" from militant groups that indicated that they had been discussing planting a bomb on a passenger plane.

Members of the Sinai-based affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group), Wilayet Sinai, reportedly discussed "something big in the area" happening around the time of the crash, though they didn't specifically mention a plane.

The NBC News network also reported on Friday that US intelligence had picked up communications between leaders of Wilayet Sinai and IS in Syria in which they were "clearly celebrating" bringing down an airliner.

Security concerns

The crash has raised concerns about security conditions at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, which is a popular destination for European holidaymakers.

One British tourist told the Independent newspaper that he had been "offered the chance to pay £20 to skip queues and baggage checks" at the airport when he visited earlier in the year.

Dale Parkyn, a 47-year old from Yorkshire in the UK, said he and his wife had been approached by a man in military uniform and offered a chance to skip security.

"What we did is we discussed it and he then produced a £20 note and said, 'Have you one of these?' and you can avoid the queue.”

A British government spokesperson told the Independent that there was an "assessment of the security arrangements in place at the airport and to identify whether any further action is required".

On Friday it was announced that Egypt had arranged 29 planes to bring home stranded British holidaymakers, but that they would be prevented from taking hold luggage on the flight.

Large crowds gathered at the airport anxiously awaiting word of when they could fly home after Britain announced it would lift the suspension of flights out of Sharm that it had imposed on Wednesday.

"Sixty-four flights are planned out of Sharm el-Sheikh today, including 29 organised by British companies to take home British tourists whose holidays have ended," civil aviation ministry spokesman Hossam Kamal said in a statement.

However, the Russian government announced on Saturday that there would be "no evacuation" of the more than 80,000 Russian tourists in Egypt, despite the decision on Friday to suspend all flights to Egypt.

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