Moscow (dpa) – Russia is suspending flights to and from Egypt until investigators determine what caused a Russian passenger jet to explode mid-air last weekend, the Kremlin said Friday.
“This concerns all flights,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to state news agency TASS.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to halt the flights upon the recommendation of Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee, Peskov told reporters.
“So long as we have not established the true causes of what
happened, I think it would be reasonable to stop Russian flights to Egypt,” said Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, according to TASS.
Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board.
An affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the tragedy – the deadliest civil aviation disaster in Russian history.
Russia began a bombing campaign against the Islamic State and other extremist groups in nearby Syria in September.
The plane was heading from the popular Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh to Russia’s second-largest city, St Petersburg. Almost everyone aboard was Russian.
There are two main theories for the disaster: a bomb placed on the Airbus A321 exploded, or a part of the 18-year-old plane’s fuselage that was damaged more than a decade earlier succumbed to the cabin pressurization and ripped apart.
Britain suspended flights from Sharm el-Sheikh on Wednesday after the government said a bomb was the most likely cause of the crash.
The BBC reported Friday that experts who have analyzed the crash “believe a bomb was put in the hold prior to take-off.”
Russian investigators took wipe samples from all the fragments of the jet and luggage to check for traces of explosives, the head of Russia’s emergency services ministry said.
“The samples have been brought to Moscow and are being
examined,” said Vladimir Puchkov, according to TASS.
Russian authorities have been hesitant to endorse any theory for the cause of the crash ahead of official results from the investigation.
On Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron told Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi in London that he recognized the importance of the resort to Egypt’s economy and hoped to restore regular flights as soon as possible.
About 20,000 British nationals are believed to be in Sharm el-Sheikh and the surrounding resorts, the BBC reported. An estimated 45,000 Russians are there, TASS reported.
Thousands of British holidaymakers remained stranded at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, with only eight of 29 planned evacuation flights to Britain scheduled on Friday.
The cancellation of most of the planned flights was because of London’s requirement that the planes carry no hold luggage, Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal said.
“Leaving this luggage to be transported separately would have placed a big burden on the airport, which cannot handle this,” Kamal said.
“We suggested that eight flights be operated and the passengers’ bags be transported by a cargo plane to ensure that air traffic at the airport will not be disrupted.”
The minister said that Egypt is facing a “fierce campaign” aimed at discrediting it after suggestions that the crash might have been caused by a bomb planted on the plane, perhaps by an airport employee.
US President Barack Obama told CBS Radio News that he thought there was “a possibility that there was a bomb on board and we’re taking that very seriously.”