Sharm el-Sheikh and the Russian plane crash – what we know
Saturday 29th October 2015, KGL9268 an Airbus A321 had just left the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and was bound for the Russian city of St Petersburg. It was carrying 217 passengers, 138 of them women and 17 children aged between 2 and 17. Most were tourists and in addition there were seven crew on board.
At 04:13 GMT, at an altitude of 9,450m (31,000ft) flight speed suddenly dropped and the aircraft started rapidly losing height. US media reported that US satellites had seen a “heat flash” on the aircraft at this time. All analysis suggests that the aircraft broke up at this stage. The crew did not transmit a mayday message.
The ISIS affiliated Wilayat Sinai group released a statement on Saturday 29th saying, “The fighters of the Islamic State were able to down a Russian plane over Sinai province that was carrying over 220 Russian crusaders. They were all killed, thanks be to God.” At the same time they posted a video, seen by the SecurityNewsDesk team supposedly showing a missile being fired at an airliner and hitting it. It was only suggested that it was this missile that hit the aircraft. The wording of their statement only said “downed”, not shot down.
In an audio statement released on 4th November, the ISIS affiliated Wilayat Sinai group gave a further statement claiming responsibility for the downing of a Russian plane over Sinai. In the statement, their spokesman said: “We are the ones who downed it thank to God and we are not forced to reveal how we downed it. Bring your black box, and do your analysis…prove we didn’t down it…we will reveal the way at the time we wish.” Immediately after the audio release a video was distributed across social media threatening the Russians.
Speaking exclusively to SecurityMiddleEast.com, James Abernethy, a former British Intelligence Officer, said,
“ISIS have never claimed something before they haven’t had a hand in. This latest message suggests ISIS are protecting their methodology because they may want to try to use it again. It is possible that they managed to place a Lockerbie style device on the aircraft or in passengers luggage, but I am sure the Egyptian authorities are taking every measure to ensure the safety of aircraft using Sharm el-Sheikh and other airports.”
Following up in a comment to SecurityNewsDesk he said,
“It is interesting that they challenged our ability to prove how the aircraft was downed. I would assess the most likely scenario as a Lockerbie type bomb. However, it is possible that what caused the probable explosion was not a traditional “bomb” but could have been a novel explosive device. Even a gas cylinder exploding in the hold at 31,000 feet could cause an aircraft to disintegrate.”
“ISIS have never claimed something before they haven’t had a hand in. This latest message suggests ISIS are protecting their methodology because they may want to try to use it again and if this had been identified by British Intelligence then the Foreign Secretary had no choice but to cancel all flights. However, I am sure the authorities will be looking at every possibility,” he added.
Lee Doddridge, Director of Covenant, a specialist security and counter terrorism consultancy, said,
“We have been working with some of the major tour operators in Egypt advising them on their security and carrying out covert surveys so they can understand where the threats are. Generally the tour operators are vey proactive and listen to recommendations. They have influence over the areas they “own” like the hotels, resorts and external tours, but have little influence over areas run by government organisations.”
“We have surveyed Sharm el-Sheikh twice and have been impressed by the proactive engagement by the tour operators. The local security forces have all of the kit necessary but generally lack the knowledge of what to do with it. Combine this with their working routines which reinforce boredom and the heat which is debilitating then there are huge gaps in their attention to security. In addition, getting jobs at the airport seems to be based on who you know rather than your suitability for the role and I would question the standards of vetting of personnel,” he added.
Doddridge continued, “It is not just the fault of the locals, on one survey we observed British tourists giving security officials a hard time for doing their jobs and being so awkward and abusive that they had to be warned by the tour reps that they could be arrested. Apparently this happens regularly, so there is no wonder some staff just get fed up and their interest wains.”
“If we could help the Egyptian Security forces in one way to make a difference it would be by training them properly”, he concluded.
As well as British flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh being cancelled, Irish flights have followed suit, the Dutch have recommended that people don’t fly and Germany’s Lufthansa Group said it was cancelling all flights of its subsidiaries, Edelweiss and Eurowings, to Sharm el-Sheikh.
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