Israeli Intelligence Intercepts Indicate Crash of Russian Airliner Due to Bomb

Egypt Russian Plane Crash
Russian and Egyptian experts work at the crash site of a Russian passenger plane bound that crashed in Hassana, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015 / AP
November 9, 2015

JERUSALEM—Israeli intelligence intercepts of Islamic State communications in Sinai provided the first indications that the crash of a Russian airliner last week was not due to a malfunction but to a bomb, according to foreign media reports.

The crash took the lives of all 224 persons aboard, including Russian vacationers returning home from the Sharm al-Sheikh resort and crewmen.

Egyptian officials, who vigorously denied at first that the crash was due to terrorism, shifted their position Monday on the basis of accumulating evidence, including the sound of an apparent explosion heard on the cockpit "black box" recorder.

"The indications and analysis so far of the sound on the black box indicate that it was a bomb," said an Egyptian member of an international investigation team that has been set up. "We are 90 percent sure it was a bomb."

Israel declined to comment on the report that its intelligence services had provided the first indication that a bomb had brought the plane down, but officials in London and Washington have said that the information had come from Jerusalem.

Israeli intelligence was long presumed to have targeted the Islamic State branch in the Sinai peninsula which has staged several rocket attacks and ground incursions into Israel’s southern Negev. But this is the first indication that it apparently has the capability of intercepting communications far from the Israeli border. Israeli intelligence has been reported to be providing information to its Egyptian military counterparts to assist the war being waged by Cairo against the radical Jihadists in Sinai. Hundreds of Egyptian police and soldiers have been killed in that campaign.

The downing of the Russian plane by terrorists is a grievous blow to the struggling Egyptian economy whose main pillar is the tourist industry. Moscow announced last Friday that it was suspending all flights to Egypt—not just to Sharm al-Sheikh but to Cairo and elsewhere. Normally, three million Russian tourists descend on Egypt every year.

Terror acts in the past have spooked the tourism industry but these were generally carried out in the Egyptian heartland—around Cairo itself or the archaeological sites in upper Egypt.

Sharm al-Sheikh, at the end of the Sinai Peninsula, had been considered relatively secure, because of its remoteness and because all approach roads could be monitored. Planes flying out of Sharm al-Sheikh flew at an altitude that put them out of range of any shoulder-held anti-aircraft weapons the militants might possess. In this case, however, Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the crash, apparently found a low-tech solution—a collaborator working at the Sharm airport who was able to plant a bomb among the tourists’ bags at the rear of the aircraft.

The president of Emirates Airlines, Tim Clark, said the incident was a "game changer" for the tourism industry world-wide. "There is no doubt that the U.S. and countries in Europe, I would think, will make some fairly stringent, draconian demands on the way aviation works with security," he said.

Published under: Islamic State , Russia