President Vladimir Putin halted all Russian flights to Egypt Friday, Nov. 6, “until we know the true causes of the incident” .i.e. the cause of the Russian Metrojet flight crash over Sinai Saturday which killed all 224 people aboard. Several European and Gulf Arab governments suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, but Russia was the first to halt all outbound flights to Egypt. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin acted on the recommendation of the Russian security service chief Alexander Bortnikov.
The language of the statement – “true causes of the incident” – indicates that the Russians have lost patience with President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi and don’t trust the Egyptian investigation into the causes of the disaster. For most of the week, the Russians played along with Egypt’s obstinate resistance to any suggestion of terrorism and insisted on waiting for the official investigations before making any determinations. Thursday, Moscow sharply criticized British prime minister for presuming on the strength of intelligence that the plane was most likely downed by a bomb.
Putin abruptly changed course Friday following four developments:
1. Russian investigators collecting samples at the crash scene in Sinai found residue and other evidence of an explosion emanating from inside the plane or externally from a missile. They discovered holes made by iron balls planted inside a bomb and scattered through all parts of the plane (see attached photos), as well as large tears in the outer walls that were caused by a powerful explosion. Samples from the airplane’s wreckage were collected and presented to a meeting of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee Thursday.
2. Forensic examination of victims’ remains left no doubt that they died as a result of an explosive blast.
These findings spread like wildfire in Moscow and in St. Petersburg among the grieving families. The Russian leader saw he could no longer afford to line up with Cairo’s playdown of the terrorist factor.
3. Moscow received intelligence that the Islamic State plans to follow up on its first “success” with further terrorist attacks on Russian and European passenger jets.
By downing the Russian airliner over Sinai, the Islamist terror group delivered a huge blow to Egypt’s tourism industry. Russia tops Egypt’s tourist market. Last year, 3.1 million Russians visited Egypt, yielding $2.5bn out of the total national tourism income of $7.3bn in 2014.
Sharm el-Sheikh was the scene of havoc Friday, as Russian and British tourists mobbed the airport in an attempt to fly home after the Egyptian authorities limited the number of outbound flights.