Was Russian plane that crashed in Sinai bombed? What we know

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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — There aren’t many concrete details about what brought down Metrojet Flight 9268, but that hasn’t stopped some officials from making their case — and so far, everyone’s not seeing eye to eye.

It boils down to different types of evidence. U.S. and British officials point at intelligence and security concerns at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport as they say it’s likely a bomb caused Saturday’s crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Russian and Egyptian authorities say forensic evidence from the scene will reveal what happened to the doomed jet.

If history is any indication, it could be a long time before these governments can get on the same page. But here’s a look at what we know so far from the evidence that’s been made public:

Evidence that backs up the bomb theory:

— Flight 9268 dropped off radar about 23 minutes into the flight and tracking data showed abrupt changes in speed and altitude before the signal was lost.

— Air traffic controllers received no distress calls — suggesting that whatever happened, happened suddenly.

— A U.S. military satellite detected a midair heat flash before the plane crashed. That could happen if a bomb went off, though there are other scenarios that would also have shown up in satellite data.

— The Sinai Peninsula, where the plane crashed, is a volatile region that’s been a battleground between ISIS-affiliated militants and Egyptian security forces. Hundreds have died in the fighting, and the militants have bomb-making capabilities.

— ISIS has repeatedly claimed it downed the jet. One purported message from the group’s Sinai affiliate said ISIS brought down the jet to retaliate against Russia for airstrikes in Syria.

— Russia started launching airstrikes in September, saying it was coordinating with the regime to combat ISIS and other terrorists.

— Chatter surrounding the crash in internal messages of the terrorist group drew the attention of the U.S. intelligence community, a U.S. official said. This chatter was picked up only after the plane went down and included talk of a bomb’s origins and braggadocio about the crash, U.S. officials said.

— Alexander Smirnov, a Metrojet official, told reporters in Moscow the airline had ruled out technical problems and human error. Protection systems on the plane would have prevented it from crashing, he said, even if there were major errors in the pilot’s control equipment.

— Egyptian officials have maintained that the Sharm el-Sheikh airport measures up to international standards, but concerns have been raised about security there in the past. And British officials temporarily suspended flights from the airport to the United Kingdom this week amid security concerns. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said late Thursday that flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to Britain would resume Friday with new security measures in place.

— Intelligence suggests someone at the airport helped plant a bomb on the plane, a U.S. official said.

Evidence that calls into question bomb scenario:

— ISIS’ refusal to divulge details about the bombing is making some experts skeptical of the terror organization’s claim that it was involved in the crash. Typically, ISIS is quick to trumpet who carried out any attacks and how for purposes of praise and propaganda. To some, the fact that ISIS hasn’t provided details in this case raises doubt about the group’s repeated claims of responsibility.

— Smirnov, the Metrojet official, was quick to share his thoughts on purported footage of the crash posted by militants claiming credit for bringing down the plane: “Those images you have seen on the Internet, I think they are fake.”

— One U.S. official warned that chatter like what was observed in ISIS affiliated messages after the crash can sometimes be empty boasting or an attempt to misdirect intelligence services.

— Russian state media reported earlier this week that so far, investigators hadn’t found any traces of explosive devices in the debris.

— Most of the bodies retrieved at the crash site are intact, a medical source in Sinai told CNN, and showed no major burns. On the bodies of victims recovered so far, investigators hadn’t found any sign of explosive impact, Russian state media reported Tuesday, citing unnamed sources. Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported that Russian and Egyptian experts had not found any blast-related trauma during their preliminary examination of crash victims’ bodies, citing a Russian source within the investigation.

— Egyptian authorities have maintained there’s no evidence of a terrorist attack. Investigators have found no evidence to support the theory that a bomb was responsible, Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamel said.

Evidence that points to other theories:

— Investigators say they haven’t ruled out any scenarios. The possibility of human error, mechanical failure and structural problems with the plane remain on the table.

— The heat flash picked up by a U.S. military satellite, analysts say, could also occur if there were an engine explosion or a structural problem with the plane that caused a fire.

— Metrojet Flight 9268’s tail was found 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from the other plane wreckage, and did not show any signs of burning from a fire, state broadcaster Russia 24 reported. That, CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo said, could be a sign of botched repair work conducted on the plane after a 2001 tail strike incident. “To me, it says (the tail) exited the plane before the explosive event and before the fire engulfed the plane,” she said.


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