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Intelligence on Russian plane crash points to bomb: UK reports

By AFP   |   06 November 2015   |   1:06 pm  

A flower is seen near debris at the crash site of a Russian airliner in al-Hasanah area in El Arish city, north Egypt, November 1, 2015.   REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

A flower is seen near debris at the crash site of a Russian airliner in al-Hasanah area in El Arish city, north Egypt, November 1, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Information intercepted by US and British spies suggested a bomb may have been carried onto the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt last week, UK media reported Friday.

The Times said the information came to light after a joint US-British intelligence operation “used satellites to uncover electronic communications” between Islamic State group militants in Syria and Egypt, without giving a source for the information.

“The tone and content of the messages convinced analysts that a bomb had been carried on board by a passenger or a member of the airport ground staff,” said the newspaper, which was recently given rare access to the British communications spying agency GCHQ.

A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron refused to comment on the report, saying “we’re not going to get into details on intelligence matters”.

The British and US governments have said it is possible an explosive caused the Saint Petersburg-bound jet to crash in the Sinai Peninsula after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.

Britain temporarily suspended flights between the Red Sea resort — where an estimated 20,000 of its nationals are on holiday — and UK airports on the basis of intelligence information.

The IS jihadist group has claimed responsibility for the disaster.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that “crucial intelligence” came to light after British and US intelligence services “went back over communications of known fanatics in the region”.

“British spies intercepted messages which showed ISIL extremists had plotted a major terror attack in the region,” the broadsheet said.

“Their trawl revealed ‘chatter’ in the days before the crash pointing to an imminent attack,” the Telegraph reported, without giving a source.

Meanwhile the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner said the British security services suspected that someone with access to the plane’s baggage compartment planted an explosive device there shortly before the jet took off.

Some evacuation flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to Britain were due to resume on Friday, with airlines laying on extra planes to get stranded travellers home, but passengers would only be allowed to fly with hand luggage due to a British government request.

Hold luggage will be flown to Britain at a later date.

Egypt and Russia have urged patience until the results of an investigation into the crash are known, before drawing conclusions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Britain had not given Russia any intelligence information that pointed towards an attack.

“No, they have not shared. We don’t know what information our British colleagues are basing themselves on,” he told reporters.



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