Still Tiptoeing Round the 1999 EgyptAir Crash

At long last, the US Federal Transportation Safety Board is ready to issue its oft-delayed final report on the crash of the EgyptAir Boeing 767 into the Atlantic off the Massachusetts island of Nantucket on October 31, 1999. According to one advance leak, the Egyptian co-pilot Gameel Al-Batouty is at last held responsible for the death of the 217 people aboard the doomed craft, 22 minutes after takeoff from JFK for Cairo.

The attempt by an earlier federal panel to name al Batouty almost caused a rupture in US-Egyptian relations. The Egyptians fought the finding tooth and nail, claiming against all the evidence that mechanical problems were responsible for the disaster. None of the inquiries found evidence of mechanical problems.

Yet even after almost three years, punches are being diplomatically pulled. The final report stops short of naming the co-pilot’s motivation. It also comes up with another of the tall stories surrounding the disaster. This one comes from a former EgyptAir captain, Hanofy Taha Mahmound Hamdy, who says al- Batouty acted in revenge against Hatem Rushdy, head of the Boeing 767 pilot group, who was a passenger on the doomed New York-Cairo flight. Rushdy had reprimanded the co-pilot for sexual misconduct that embarrassed the company and said he would not be allowed to fly again.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s aviation experts and counter-terror experts find the whole affair astonishing. Despite the September 11 traumas and America’s war on global terror, still the diplomats are at work to bury an out-and-out act of suicide terrorism so as not to impair relations with a government that obdurately refuses to take part in America’s fight against world terror. The Mubarak regime is still not prepared to admit that the Egyptian co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane and that Islamic extremists had penetrated the elite Egyptian air force.

According to all the evidence, the 1999 EgyptAir 990 Boeing disaster was a precursor of September 11, 2001. Co-pilot al-Batouti belonged to the Egyptian Jihad Islami, operational arm of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. Some experts believe the deliberate crashing of the plane may have been a practice run for the operation to ram two hijacked Boeings into the World Trade Towers almost two years later. Terror analysts have noted that bin Laden’s major strikes are usually eighteen months to two years apart and meticulously planned in every detail.

The earlier NTSB interim report – also published after inexplicable delays in August 2000 – found no evidence of fire, loss of cabin pressure or any other reason for the Egyptian Boeing 767’s rapid descent. The only picture fitting the facts and the data registered by the two flight recorders was that of a deliberate pilot-induced dive for no apparent reason, followed by pilot actions not used in normal flight.

At 30,000 feet, with nothing seemingly amiss, someone disengaged the autopilot. Eight seconds later, the plane began to pitch forward, eventually reaching a 40-degree nose-down pitch angle and diving so abruptly at a speed of mach.94, that it was at zero gravity for 20 seconds. Passengers, beverage carts and anything not tied down would have floated about in the cabin. The master warning did not sound until too late, apparently because of over speed, since the autopilot was off.

For some unexplained reason, the pilots then shut down both engines. The plane, after climbing from about 16,000 feet to about 24,000 feet, began its final descent into the ocean.

An FBI spokesman, explaining why the bureau did not automatically take over the investigation, said it had uncovered no information that a crime was involved, despite some anomalies and unanswered questions. One anomaly was the presence of dozens of Egyptian military officials, who boarded the plane at Edwards base, north of Los Angeles.

The most controversial piece of evidence is the voice recording of the 59-year old copilot Gameel el Batouti, who repeatedly shouted “Tawakilt ala allah” (I put my trust in God), shortly after taking over the Boeing 767’s controls. Investigators report he recited this invocation 14 times as he drove the airliner into its fatal nosedive. The Egyptians insist that this is nothing but a routine Muslim prayer, and no proof that Batouti, a respectable family man, was a suicidal Moslem zealot. However according to the investigators, it sounded nothing like an everyday prayer. Furthermore, Batouti asked to take over the copilot’s seat half an hour after takeoff from JFK, much earlier than scheduled. Captain Ahmed al-Habashi agreed and left the cockpit. Later he is heard shouting, “What’s going on here?” and then, urgently, “pull with me, pull with me.” Some of the evidence shows that the captain and co-pilot at one point pulled in opposite directions, and that Batouti switched off the engines while the two were fighting.

DEBKAfile reported from its counter-terrorist experts on August 1, 2000:

The shutdown of further inquiries into the causes of the EgyptAir 909 air disaster appears to be a desperate attempt to muffle embarrassing facts. One is the presence aboard of 33 Egyptian army men, two of them generals, including the commander of Egypt’s air defense force, as well as a large group of Apache pilots fresh from special task courses at Andrews air base north of Los Angeles and Egyptian elite unit officers who likewise received US training. The American investigators believe, although they will not admit this publicly, that filtered among these officers were secret followers of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, who were in on the conspiracy with Batouti to bring the plane down.

Serious in itself, this possibility points at some pretty disquieting occurrences on the international terror scene. One: That fanatical Islamic Jihad’s followers are planted deep inside the Egyptian army’s elite units, posing a serious threat to the Mubarak presidency. Two: US intelligence is so completely unaware of this penetration that undercover zealots were able to gain entry to US bases and take training in the most advanced combat techniques. Three: The notorious international terrorist Osama Bin Laden is on the offensive. Complex planning and execution on the scale of the EgyptAir disaster would have been beyond the capabilities of the Egyptian sect on its own. Since the nineties, Egypt’s Islamic Jihad has for all practical purposes acted as Bin Laden’s operational arm, involving him in all its actions. In downing the EgyptAir Boeing, this Islamic pact-for-terror may have pulled off its most successful and extensive coup.

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