Investigators pored over the deepening mystery Monday surrounding the Russian passenger jet that crashed Saturday on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, as representatives from the company that owned the aircraft claimed it could only have been brought down by “external factors” — but U.S. intelligence officials said there was not yet any “direct evidence” of a terrorist attack.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Only an external impact could have caused the crash of a Russian plane in Egypt that killed all 224 people on board, a top airline official said Monday, raising more questions about what exactly happened.
“We rule out a technical fault of the plane or a pilot error,” said Alexander Smirnov, deputy general director of Metrojet. “The only possible explanation could be an external impact on the airplane.”
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said that while a Sinai-based affiliate of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, claimed responsibility for the attack, U.S. officials “really don’t know” what caused the Russian plane to crash after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.
Russian and Egyptian officials echoed the assessment, arguing that it was premature to accept the terrorist claim of responsibility before a closer examination of the plane’s black boxes, which were retrieved over the weekend but were still being analyzed on Monday.
The prospect of terrorist involvement has cast an uncertain specter over the incident, particularly because of the geopolitical implications likely to come with such a finding.
Should the Islamic State be found responsible, Egypt, which is engaged in a bloody campaign to contain the spread of the extremist group’s main affiliate in the area — the so-called “Sinai Province” — may be tempted to draw Russia in as an ally in the effort.
Moscow, which has recently opened a bombing campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad against Islamic State’s core branch in that nation, may well be eager to expand the campaign into North Africa.