President Vladimir Putin has agreed to suspend all flights to Egypt while an investigation determines what caused a Russian passenger jet to crash last weekend in the Sinai, a Kremlin spokesman said Friday.
The decision came following a recommendation earlier Friday by Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of the FSB, Russia’s internal-security service. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Putin also ordered the safe return of Russians in Egypt and cooperation with Egyptian authorities on air-traffic security, Russia Today, the state-run broadcaster, reported.
Egypt is a popular tourist destination for many Russians, and it was the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh that many Russian tourists were leaving last Saturday when Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed shortly after takeoff. A claim of responsibility by an affiliate of the Islamic State was quickly dismissed while Egyptian and Russian officials began an investigation into the crash.
But that didn’t stop speculation into what downed the plane—speculation that only intensified after Britain suspended flights from Sharm el-Sheikh, citing fears of terrorism. Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “more likely that not” that terrorism was behind the crash—comments echoed by President Obama.
Egypt and Russia reacted angrily to the speculation, saying it was premature while an investigation was ongoing, but Russia’s decision Friday to suspend its flights to all of Egypt are likely to only increase speculation about what downed Flight 9268.
The head of the FSB, Russia’s internal security service, is recommending that all Russian flights to Egypt be halted while an investigation determined what caused a Russian passenger jet to crash last weekend, killing 224 people.
“As long as we haven’t established the causes of the incident, I consider it appropriate to suspend the flights of Russian aircraft to Egypt,” FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov told a meeting of the Russian Anti-Terror Committee on Friday. “This primarily applies to the tourist flow.”
The British airline EasyJet says two of its flights have left the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with 379 passengers, while Egyptian authorities aren’t allowing seven others to operate. EasyJet and other British airlines are trying to return an estimated 19,000 Britons home after the U.K. suspended outbound flights from the resort city following last weekend’s crash of a Russian plane.
Egyptian and Russian investigators say it’s too early to conclusively say what caused the crash, but Western officials, including President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, say it looks increasingly likely the plane was downed by terrorism. All 224 people on board were killed.
U.K. officials said they were working with their Egyptian counterparts to ensure the scheduled flights leave.
“Our aim is to get as many people home as soon as possible,” John Casson, the British ambassador to Egypt, said at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.
It’s unclear why Egyptian authorities prevented the eight Easyjet flights from operating—Egyptian officials say the Sharm el-Sheikh airport was being overwhelmed—but Britain’s quick attribution of a cause—terrorism—for the Russian plane crash angered both Egypt and Russia. Both countries said the diagnosis was premature since an investigation was ongoing.
But concerns about terrorism could hurt the Egyptian economy, which relies heavily on tourism to places such as Sharm el-Sheikh for revenue. Russia was also angered because of its involvement in the Syrian civil war, in which it is carrying out airstrikes on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad against rebel group, including the Islamic State. It was an Islamic State affiliate that initially claimed responsibility for the Russian crash—a claim that was quickly dismissed by Russia and Egypt.
Western officials have publicly, and through leaks, suggested terrorism downed Metrojet Flight 9268. On Friday, the BBC reported that investigators believe a bomb was placed in the plane’s hold prior to takeoff. Cameron, the British prime minister, said Thursday it was “more likely than not” the plane was downed by terrorism; and Obama, in an interview Thursday with Seattle’s KIRO, said while there is an ongoing investigation, “I think there is a possibility that there was a bomb on board. And we are taking that very seriously.”