Russian authorities have definitively concluded that a bomb exploded inside the Metrojet Airbus A321 that disintegrated over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31. Forensic experts have found explosives residue on wreckage retrieved at the crash site, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, reported to president Vladimir Putin. A statement by Putin on Russian television on Tuesday marked the first indication by Russia that a terrorist act brought down the airplane, resulting in the death of all 224 people on board. Although Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack within hours and both the U.S. and UK suggested the strong possibility that a bomb caused the disaster, governments around the world hadn't reached a definitive conclusion until Tuesday.
Russian authorities have now concluded that the bomb had detonated soon after the airplane took off from the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg, Russia, causing it to disintegrate in midair and scatter pieces of the fuselage over a wide area of the Sinai desert.
The announcement comes some 10 days after Russia’s government suspended all flights by its carriers in and out of Egypt on the basis of intelligence reports that a bomb might have destroyed the aircraft. That move came some 48 hours after the UK government stopped flights to and from Sharm El Sheikh. The governments of the Netherlands, France and Belgium all subsequently advised their nationals not to travel to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
Russian officials had initially criticized the UK decision as precipitous but subsequently appeared to have gathered their own intelligence data pointing to a terrorist bomb attack as being a likely cause of the crash. The Egyptian government, clearly anxious to protect its tourism industry, still has not officially accepted the Russian conclusion, insisting that 10 months ago it had bolstered security at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport on the insistence of UK authorities.
At a November 7 press conference, Ayman al-Muqaddam, the leader of the Egyptian investigation, said that the airplane’s CVR recorded an unspecified noise, but he stressed that investigators had not deduced what it might indicate. Egyptian officials complained about what they regard as the failure of foreign governments to share with them intelligence relating to the investigation.
On Tuesday a senior Egyptian official told NBC News that authorities had detained two employees at Sharm el-Sheikh airport in connection with the bombing. Later, however, the country’s interior ministry issued a statement insisting that neither suspect was under arrest.