Russia’s Transport Minister on Saturday dismissed reports that the Islamic State group downed the Russian plane that crashed Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, saying the claims “can’t be considered accurate”.
“Now in various media there is assorted information that the Russian passenger (plane)... was supposedly shot down by an anti-aircraft missile, fired by terrorists. This information can’t be considered accurate,” Maxim Sokolov told the Interfax news agency.
The Airbus A321 was flying from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it went down in a desolate mountainous area of central Sinai soon after daybreak, killing all 224 people on board.
The Russian statement follows the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Egypt claim that it had downed the plane.
"The soldiers of the caliphate succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane in Sinai," said the statement circulated on social media.
FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadi movements, Wassim Nasr, said on Twitter that the IS group didn’t specify how the plane was shot down, but added that the IS group has never claimed an attack they didn’t commit.
Islamic State militants have shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (Manpads), which have a flight ceiling of roughly 10,000 feet.
However, the plane was said to be travelling at a height of 31,000 feet, putting it beyond the range of Manpads, before it made a steep descent as it crashed
Egypt claims ‘technical fault’
Egyptian security sources said there was no indication the Airbus had been shot down or blown up, suggesting instead that the crash could have been caused by a technical fault.
The Russian Embassy in Cairo said it had been told by Egyptian officials the pilot had been trying to make an emergency landing at Arish.
"I now see a tragic scene," an Egyptian security officer at the site told Reuters by telephone. "A lot of dead on the ground and many who died whilst strapped to their seats.
"The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside," the officer, who requested anonymity, said.
The black box was recovered from the tail of the plane, the prime minister's office said.
Sinai is the scene of an insurgency by militants close to the Islamic State group, who have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police and have also attacked Western targets in recent months.
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on Sept. 30.
Also in this report Lufthansa, Air France avoid flying over Sinai after crash
Two of Europe’s largest airlines have decided to avoid flying over the Sinai peninsula while they wait for clarity on what caused a Russian airliner carrying 224 passengers to crash in the area on Saturday.
German carrier Lufthansa and Air France-KLM have decided to avoid the area for safety reasons, spokeswomen for the carriers said on Saturday.
"We took the decision to avoid the area because the situation and the reasons for the crash were not clear," a Lufthansa spokeswoman said. "We will continue to avoid the area until it is clear what caused the crash."
Lufthansa has less than 10 flights a day that cross the area, she said.
"Air France confirms it has set up, as a precaution, measures to avoid flights over the zone of Sinai," the spokeswoman for the carrier said.