Russia Confirms Metrojet 9268 Brought Down By Bomb
Russian officials have officially confirmed something that has been suspected for more than a week now, that Metrojet Flight 9268, the Russian passenger jet that went down over the Sinai Peninsula more than two weeks ago, was brought down by a bomb:
MOSCOW — Russia confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that a homemade bomb brought down a Russian charter jet over the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt more than two weeks ago, killing all 224 people aboard.
“We can say definitely that this was a terrorist act,” Alexander V. Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., said in remarks to Russia’s Security Council.
An “improvised explosive device” had detonated soon after the plane took off from the resort city of Sharm el Sheikh, he said in remarks broadcast nationally. “The plane disintegrated in midair, which explains the widely scattered fuselage pieces.”
British and American inteligence agencies strongly suggested that a bomb had brought down the Metrojet Airbus A321 just days after it went down on Oct. 31. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility for the attack within hours, although it did not provide any proof.
The announcement from the Kremlin was the first, clearly definitive statement from Russia that the plane was brought down by a terrorist act, although leaders had been moving in that direction after initially criticizing the early suggestions a that a bomb was responsible.
Asked if Russia had concluded that the Islamic State was behind the attack, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the group had exported terrorism to other countries but that Russia could not say definitively that the Islamic State was responsible, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Most tourist flights to the Red Sea resort have been suspended since the crash because of security concerns that a member of airport staff was able to slip the bomb on board.
The bomb contained up to 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of TNT, Mr. Bortnikov said, adding that “foreign made” explosive material was found on parts of the plane and other objects that were examined.
Russia has offered $50 million for any information leading to the capture of those who carried out the attack, and President Vladimir V. Putin vowed to track them down.
“We will search for them everywhere, no matter where they are hiding,” Mr. Putin said at a meeting with his security council that was broadcast on national television. “We will find them in any place on the planet and will punish them.”
Mr. Putin said the attacks by the Russian air force in Syria would not only continue but intensify.
“Our military work in Syria must not only be continued, but strengthened so that criminals understand that punishment is inevitable,” Mr. Putin said.
The Ministry of Defense and the military had been ordered to draw up plans, he said.
In claiming responsibility, the Islamic State branch on the Sinai Peninsula said the attack came in retaliation for Russia’s deployment of its military in Syria, where it is trying to shore up the rule of President Bashar al-Assad by attacking his opponents.
A spokesman for Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the Russian statement.
This confirmation doesn’t come entirely as a surprise, of course. It was only a few days after the plane went down that initial reports were saying that American intelligence and other sources were saying that the plane was most likely brought down by an explosive device of some kind, and the consensus quickly began to build behind this conclusion shortly thereafter. In response to the mere speculation, several nations, most prominently the United Kingdom and Russia suspended flights to the Sinai and even to all of Egypt out of concerns that the security at the nations airports had been compromised in some way. Even before the speculation began to center around a bomb, though, a militant group based in the Sinai Peninsula that had pledged allegiance to ISIS in the past claimed credit for bringing the plane down, although those claims were initially dismissed because they at least implied that the group had somehow been able to shoot the plane out of the sky and there was no evidence that it has the capability to reach planes at the 31,000 foot altitude the plane was at when its descent began. The use of an on-board explosive device, of course, was always a more plausible theory about how the plane could have been brought down by anything other than mechanical failure.
Confirming that the plane was brought down by a bomb does not, of course, end the matter. There is still the question of who is responsible for the act and how they may have accomplished the task of getting the device on the plane. As to the second question, again the most plausible theory is that there was a security failure at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh that allowed this to happen, and there has already been speculation about the possibility that one or more of the militant groups that has taken refuge in the Sinai over the past several years had been able to infiltrate security in some way, or to slip a device into the luggage or cargo area area of the plane without being detected. As to the first question, the fact that ISIS-linked groups, and in some respects ISIS itself, have claimed responsibility to bring the plane down obviously cannot be discounted anymore than the claims of responsibility for the Paris attacks can be discounted. Add into that the fact that ISIS had issues threats against Russia prior to the plane coming down in response to that nation’s increased involvement in Syria, and the conclusion that ISIS was in some way behind the deaths on that airplane is entirely plausible even though the matter obviously needs to still be thoroughly investigated.
With the confirmation that a Russian passenger jet was brought down by a bomb, and especially in light of subsequent attacks in Beirut and Paris that clearly seem to be the work of ISIS, it seems clear that the focus of world attention is about to shift to the fight against that group and that we may be on the verge of major concerted action. It seems unlikely that the United States, France, and the rest of the West would end up allying itself formally with Russia, which has allied itself with Bashar Assad’s Syria, Iran, and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon Hezbollah, but the events of the past two weeks clearly seem to show that we all have some common interest when it comes to the threat that ISIS poses not only within the borders of the so-called “state” it claims to have created in the largely lawless regions of Syria and Iraq but also outside it. Egypt in particular may now have something to worry about in the Sinai, which has become significantly more violent in the years since the February 2011 revolution after decades of largely peaceful silence in the wake of the Camp David Accords in 1978. At the very least, the news that someone was able to get a bomb on board a plane at an Egyptian airport is likely to do real harm to the nation’s tourist industry, which had only recently begun to recover from the downturn it took after the revolution in 2011 and the events that followed after that. Those security issues, along with the possibility that Sinai has been infiltrated by ISIS, are likely to be significant problems going forward.
Once again, it seems, we are living in interesting times.