Egyptian airport employees arrested after plane crash

Russian security confirm bomb brought down plane in October ‘terrorist act’

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Military investigators from Russia stand near the debris of a Russian airliner at the site of its crash at the Hassana area in Arish city, north Egypt. File photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Egyptian authorities have detained two employees of Sharm al-Sheikh airport in connection with the downing of a Russian jet on October 31st that killed all 224 people on board, two security officials said on Tuesday.

“Seventeen people are being held, two of them are suspected of helping whoever planted the bomb on the plane at Sharm al-Sheikh airport,” one of the officials said.

Russia’s FSB security service said on Tuesday it was certain a bomb had brought down the plane, joining Britain and the United States in reaching that conclusion.

Egypt has not yet confirmed that a bomb was responsible, saying it wants to wait until all investigations are complete.

It was not immediately clear what role the employees had at the airport, which is Egypt’s third-busiest, handling a vast number of charter and budget flights for tourists seeking sea and sun in the southern Sinai peninsula.

Since the disaster, many flights to and from Sharm al-Sheikh have been suspended, raising concerns that Egypt’s tourism industry, worth about €6.5 billion a year and still a pillar of the economy despite having fallen sharply in recent years, will be further ravaged.

Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB, said the conclusion of Russian investigators was that a homemade bomb containing around 1 kg of TNT had detonated during the flight, causing the plane to break up in mid-air.

“We can unequivocally say it was a terrorist act,” he said.

Egyptian ministers, led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, were meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh on Tuesday, with a news conference expected later in the day. Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible for the attack.

“There’s no statute of limitations for this, we need to know all of their names,” the president said. “We’re going to look for them everywhere, wherever they are hiding. We will find them in any place on Earth and punish them.”

Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for bringing the Russian plane down in written statements, as well as video and audio messages posted on the internet following the crash.

It said the attack was in retaliation for Russia’s air campaign against IS — and other groups — in Syria, where Moscow wants to preserve the rule of president Bashar Assad.

The group warned Putin that it would also target him “at home” but did not offer any details to back its claim.

While releasing specifics would add credibility, the group may be withholding either because its claim is false, or because doing so would undermine plans for similar attacks in the future — or because the aura of mystery might deepen its mystique among die-hard followers.

IS has also claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris last Friday which killed 129 people and wounded 350 others.

Agencies