Russia has suspended flights to all Egyptian airports in an apparent acknowledgement by the Kremlin that a terrorist attack could have brought down a Russian-operated plane over the Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.
The Russian move came as British attempts to bring passengers home from Sharm el-Sheikh descended into chaos on Friday.
While Russia had earlier suggested that the UK was acting prematurely in halting flights to the Red Sea resort over terrorism fears, Vladimir Putin ordered even wider restrictions on Friday, including halting all flights from Cairo. The head of his federal security services said it would be “expedient” to suspend flights until they had discovered why the Airbus 321 had crashed last Saturday.
Meanwhile, the US announced new security measures – including tighter screening – for flights from some airports in the Middle East. Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary, said that the move was motivated by “an abundance of caution”.
Russia initially dismissed claims by Islamic State (Isis) of responsibility for downing the Metrojet flight, which came weeks after threats of retaliation for Russian planes bombing Syria, and Moscow reacted angrily after David Cameron said it was “more likely than not” a bomb.
Suspicions have intensified throughout the week that the Metrojet airliner had been blown up, with French media reporting on Friday that an explosion was audible on the black box recordings. French experts from Airbus are part of the investigating team.
According to reports from the US, a “flash” from the plane was picked up by US satellites, pointing to an explosion. American officials have also told Reuters that intercepted intelligence “chatter” involving militant groups in Sinai supported the bomb theory. An Isis-affiliated group has claimed three times that it was responsible for bringing down the plane.
Russia will now follow British moves to bring its tourists home, up to 45,000 of whom are currently on holiday in Egypt, according to Russian tourist authorities.
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