Thousands more tourists fly home after Egypt crash

2015-11-09 21:00
Members of the Egyptian military approach the Metrojet Airbus A321’s wrecked tail. The passenger jet was flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it crashed in northern Sinai last weekend 
Picture: Maxim Grigoriev / Russian Minist

Members of the Egyptian military approach the Metrojet Airbus A321’s wrecked tail. The passenger jet was flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it crashed in northern Sinai last weekend Picture: Maxim Grigoriev / Russian Minist

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Sharm el Sheikh - Thousands more foreign tourists flew home from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday after the downing of a Russian airliner claimed by jihadists, as police killed a top militant in the capital.

The militant, Ashraf Ali Ali Hassanein al-Gharabli, was shot dead in an exchange of fire after police tried to arrest him in Cairo, the interior ministry said in a statement.

There were no indications Gharabli, a top operative of the Islamic State group (ISIS), may have been involved in a possible bombing of the aircraft, but he had been implicated in a string of attacks including the murders of a Croat and an American, both oil workers.

The ISIS branch in the Sinai claimed responsibility after the Russian Airbus crashed on October 31 in the Sinai Peninsula while en route from Sharm el-Sheikh to Saint Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board.

Britain and the United States, as well as international investigators, suspect a bomb exploded on board, but Egyptian officials insist there is no evidence yet of an attack on the plane.

Tens of thousands of foreign tourists, including around 80 000 Russians and 20 000 Britons, were stranded in the resort after flights were cancelled over security fears.

Moscow said on Monday that about 25 000 Russian tourists had returned, on more than 100 flights.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron's office said around 5 000 Britons had returned so far.

"We would expect to kind of keep up the pace of the last few days in the coming days in terms of number of flights returning. We are continuing to work with the Egyptian authorities and the airlines on this," the spokesperson said.

Police outnumber tourists

A security official at the airport gates said hundreds of tourists had flown out since Monday morning, most of them Russians, as buses drove up with a steady flow of holidaymakers.

Plainclothes officers stood guard across the coastal resort, outnumbering tourists near some beaches.

Flight numbers have been limited because both Russia and Britain have banned tourists from bringing their check-in luggage, which will be flown home separately.

That restriction has prompted Egypt to limit the number of daily repatriation flights because it says there is only so much baggage its airports can accommodate.

The crash has led to calls for greater security at airports in regions near where jihadists are operating.

It has also raised fears for Egypt's vital tourism industry, which had already been suffering from years of unrest.

Derek Moore, chair of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, told AFP that concerns over a bomb could dissuade British tourists from visiting during the peak holiday period in December.

"Even offering rock-bottom prices will not achieve that if there is a feeling that a trip to Sharm might result in death," he said.

On Saturday, the head of Egypt's investigative committee said the cause of the crash was still not clear.

"Initial observations... do not allow for identifying the origin of the in-flight break-up" of the aircraft 23 minutes and 14 seconds after it departed, Ayman el-Mokkadem said.

Egypt has pushed back against mounting international concerns that a bomb brought down the plane, with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry saying it was too early to form a "hypothesis".

Theory of a bomb

Sources close to the probe have told AFP that experts involved in the investigation, with the exception of the Egyptians, "strongly favour" the theory of a bomb on board.

One source said there was only an "infinitely small" chance that a technical incident was behind the "sudden explosive decompression" on the plane suggested by an analysis of its black box flight data and voice recorders.

An Airbus official also defended the planes' safety.

"We are confident in the safety of the A321. It has a fantastic safety record," Airbus spokesperson Justin Dubon told AFP at the Dubai Airshow.

ISIS said it downed the plane in retaliation for Russian air strikes in Syria, but has not said how.

If it was behind the attack, it would be the first time the jihadists, who control large areas of Syria and Iraq, have hit a passenger plane.

The ISIS affiliate in Egypt is waging a bloody insurgency in north Sinai that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.

Read more on:    airbus  |  isis  |  egypt  |  north africa  |  air crashes  |  air travel

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