Too Soon to Dismiss Terror as Cause of Egyptian Air Disaster

Hours after an privately chartered Egyptian airplane crashed in the Red Sea at 04.44 local time on Saturday, January 3, just after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh, French Justice Minister Dominique Perben asked prosecutors to open a preliminary inquiry for manslaughter. The justice ministry in Paris said tactfully that the manslaughter inquiry “does not prejudge in any way the causes of the catastrophe,” but provides a legal framework for a joint French-Egyptian investigation.
There were no survivors of the 148 people aboard the plane, 13 of whom were crew and most of the others French tourists with their families, bound for Charles de Gaulle after a refueling stop at Cairo.
The Egyptians claimed that the crash of a Boeing 737, operated by the Egyptian company Flash Airlines, was “absolutely not the result of a terrorist act but is linked to a technical failure of the plane. debkafile‘s aviation experts say the investigators will be called upon to consider a host of anomalies and enigmas before they reach any such definite conclusion.
1. Was it a coincidence that the disaster occurred amid the heightened aviation alert that led to the cancellation of seven US-bound flights in the week from Christmas to January 2?
2. Updated intelligence reports have revealed one or more trained al Qaeda pilots penetrating international airlines in the Middle East or Europe and standing by for a chance – or an order – to hijack a passenger airliner.
3. Suggestively, the Egyptian plane vanished abruptly from radar screens before the air crew had a chance to send out a distress call or any other signal. It looked very much as though the craft had plummeted into the sea too suddenly for any warnings; it may even have exploded in midair before dropping into the water. In that case, the cause of the explosion would have to be investigated. An eyewitness said people heard a very loud noise at the time of the crash.
4. The stricken aircraft plunged down very close to the Sinai coast opposite the shore of Saudi Arabia. Yet, several hours after the disaster, no survivors had surfaced – as normally happens when a complete craft plunges into deep water – and no large wing sections or pieces of fuselage, as would normally have been expected – only small pieces of wreckage and tens of body parts. Floating bits of debris and personal possessions were clearly visible from Naama Bay half a mile from the rescue area.
5. The Egyptian assertion of a mechanical fault does not quite accord with the initial response from French transport minister Dominique Busserau who said: “The plane had a problem after take-off and then tried to turn and it was at that minute that it apparently crashed.” However, Egyptian aviation sources say the plane was maintained regularly in Norway and there was no sign of any mechanical fault before its last flight.
6. Another odd feature of the episode is the unusual lack of response from the Saudi, Israeli, Jordanian air forces and the American warships cruising in the Tiran Straits and the Red Sea. In an exceptionally tense time, when all military electronic instruments in the region, including those of the Egyptian air force, are most certainly at peak vigilance for al Qaeda-piloted intruders, the plunging Egyptian airliner must have appeared on all their radar screens from the moment of its take-off. Because of its situation close to Jordan and Israel and opposite the big northern Saudi air base at Tubuk on the Jordanian frontier, Sharm el-Sheik is one of the most sensitive corners in the world. Why has no word come in from anyone around it?
7. The Sharm el-Sheikh air disaster recalls the last Egyptian air disaster in 1999 when EgyptAir’s 990 Boeing 767 crashed opposite the American coast of Massachusetts shortly after takeoff, killing all 217 aboard. At the time, the Egyptian authorities attributed the disaster to unusual atmospheric conditions on the East Coast, a claim never confirmed by US authorities. In a subsequent federal probe, US aviation authorities established that the co-pilot, Jamil Batouty, who was not supposed to be on duty at the time, took over the controls and put the plane into a sharp nosedive shouting Allah is Great! in Arabic.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reported then that a large group of Egyptian air force officers were aboard, flying home from counter-terror combat and fighter jets courses in the United States. Our sources learned that Batouty has been assigned by his known Egyptian Jihad Islami connections in Los Angels and Cairo to carry out a kamikaze mission to destroy this group.
8. British prime minister Tony Blair was vacationing at the Sharm el-Sheikh resort with his wife and four children. The day of the crash was supposed to be the last day of his end-of-year holiday. From the moment the disaster was reported, no word was released about their whereabouts. If the Air Flash charter tragedy was indeed staged by al Qaeda to coincide with the Blair family’s presence at the Sinai resort, it would be further evidence of the terrorist group’s audacity and intelligence prowess.

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