Moscow (dpa) – Russia said for the first time on Tuesday that a terrorist bomb brought down a Russian passenger jet in Egypt last month, killing all 224 people on board.
“It can be unambiguously said that this is a terrorist act,” said Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), according to a Kremlin transcript.
Egyptian authorities, who are leading an international investigation into the disaster, reacted cautiously to the statement, saying the Russian conclusions would be taken into account by investigators once they were provided.
The ill-fated Metrojet Airbus A321 was heading from the popular Egyptian resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh to Russia’s second-largest city, St Petersburg, when it crashed about 20 minutes after take-off in the Sinai Peninsula on October 31.
The plane was blown up by a “homemade explosive device equivalent to 1 kilogramme of TNT, due to which the plane broke up in mid-air. This explains the spread of parts of the plane’s fuselage over a large distance,” Bortnikov told President Vladimir Putin at a meeting late Monday.
Bortnikov said traces of a foreign-made explosive were found in the debris as well as on the belongings of those on board.
“We will find the culprits anywhere in the world and punish them,” Putin replied. “This murder of our people in Sinai is among the bloodiest crimes.”
An Islamic State affiliate active in Sinai claimed responsibility for the deadliest civil aviation disaster in Russian history.
Moscow has been conducting a bombing campaign against Islamic State and other extremist groups in Syria since September.
“The activities of the Russian air force in Syria should not simply continue, but should be intensified,” Putin said.
“It should be reinforced in a way that criminals realize that punishment is inevitable,” he said.
Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for multiple attacks Friday in Paris which killed 129 people and injured 352, and France has retaliated with intensified airstrikes on the strongholds of the Sunni extremist group in Syria.
French President Francois Hollande has vowed to “destroy” Islamic State, and said he would travel to Washington and Moscow to meet US President Barack Obama and Putin, and urge a UN Security Council resolution against the militant group.
On Tuesday, Putin instructed Russian forces in the region to cooperate with French forces “as an ally” against the jihadists.
“You need to establish direct contact with the French and work with them as allies,” he told military chiefs.
“You will need to develop with them a mutual action plan in the sea and in the air,” he added, in remarks reported by state media.
While Russia’s FSB announced a reward of 50 million dollars for information about those responsible for the bombing of Airbus A321, the Egyptian government implied that it had not yet been informed of the Russian findings.
“The Egyptian Government has taken note today of the results of the investigations conducted by the relevant Russian authorities,” Prime Minister Sherif Ibrahim said after a cabinet meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh.
“The concerned Egyptian authorities affirm that they will rely on the outcomes of these investigations as soon as they are provided, by incorporating them in the comprehensive investigation process being carried out by the investigation commission,” he added.
A top official in Egypt’s Aviation Ministry said the Egyptian-led international committee investigating the crash has not found any proof that a bomb brought down the airliner.
“So far the committee has not found any evidence confirming the hypothesis that the plane exploded as a result of terrorist action,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Russian investigators took sand samples from the crash site and recovered victims’ bodies, but have not officially informed the investigation committee of their conclusions, the official said.
Egypt said earlier this month that it was kept in the dark and had not received intelligence from countries that suggested a bomb was behind the crash.
When British and US security experts said the crash was likely caused by a bomb, Egypt slammed what it called a “fierce campaign” aimed at discrediting it and Russia was hesitant to endorse any theory ahead of official results.