Russia and Egypt dismissed as “speculation” British suggestions Thursday that a bomb caused a Russian jetliner to crash in the Sinai Peninsula, while Britain drafted plans to bring home thousands of tourists amid concerns over airport security in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister David Cameron said that flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the United Kingdom would resume on Friday under a strict new security regimen in order to ferry home thousands of stranded vacationers. Flights between the United Kingdom and Sharm el-Sheikh were halted Wednesday evening because of terrorism concerns, and outbound flights from the United Kingdom to Sharm el-Sheikh will remain grounded on Friday.
The new security measures seem to focus on concerns of an explosive device being smuggled aboard. In particular, the measures, which were hastily agreed upon with the British government, dictate that passengers will only be permitted hand luggage on board, while hold luggage would be transported separately.
Russia and Egypt have hotly disputed Western suggestions of a plot, calling for patience as various nations analyze the wreckage and data from Saturday’s crash.
The head of Russia’s aviation agency, Alexander Neradko, said it could be “at least several months” before an official finding on what caused the plane to break apart in mid-flight.
Egypt’s civil aviation ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement that the British theory of a bomb having been smuggled aboard the plane “is not based on facts,” and that all of the country’s airports apply international security standards.
“The investigation team does not have any evidence or data confirming this hypothesis,” Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal said, according to the statement.
But British leaders pressed their own views on the disaster that killed all 224 people aboard the Metrojet A321, which broke apart more than 20 minutes into its flight to St. Petersburg.
Cameron said Thursday that the crash was “more likely than not” caused by a bomb. He later welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to 10 Downing Street for what was expected to be a tense meeting.
Cameron also spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who stressed the importance of sticking to evidence from the “official investigation,” the Kremlin said.
U.S.-based carriers do not fly to the resort city.
A U.S. official on Wednesday appeared to give credence to Britain’s theory about the crash, saying that intelligence potentially indicates the Russian plane was brought down by a bomb.
But the official cautioned that the information was still being vetted. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, would not describe the kind of intelligence that was being examined.