DAY OF MOURNING WE WILL NEVER FORGET

Russia declares day of mourning for victims of plane crash in Egypt

OUR HEART IS WITH VLAD PUTIN PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION AND THE FAMILIES OF THE VICTIMS.

AINHOA AND ALEXA ARISTIZABAL

 

Candles

Everyone on board the Airbus died when it crashed into a mountainous area of Egypt’s Sinai peninsular. Claims by the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ (IS) that it caused the crash have been dismissed.

The Airbus 321-200 went down in northern Egypt only 23 minutes after taking off on Saturday from Sharm al-Sheikh, a popular Egyptian Red Sea resort.

The Airbus, carrying mostly Russian citizens, was returning to Saint Petersburg in Russia from Sharm al-Sheikh , Egyptian authorities said Saturday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared Sunday a day of mourning while the authorities have set up an emergency center at the Saint Petersburg airport, where friends and relatives gathered, awaiting news of the victims.

The Egyptian investigators found one of the plane’s two flight recorders or “black boxes,” at the scene. A senior air traffic controller said the plane’s pilot told him in his last transmission that he was having trouble with the radio system.

The pilot also reportedly said he wanted to make an emergency landing before losing contact with ground control. The initial information suggests that the plane crashed due to a technical fault, security sources in North Sinai said.

Kogalymavia The 18-year old Airbus went through a detailed check last year, according to its owners

Authorities in both Russia and Egypt have started investigations into the incident. Moscow is to “insist” that the flight recorders are processed in Russia, a source within the Russian investigation team told the Interfax news agency.

The 18-year old Airbus went through a detailed check last year, according to the TH&C Holding company which owns the Kogalymavia airlines which operated the flight.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as representatives of several other countries, have offered their condolences to Russia.

IS claims

“You who kill will be killed,” a militant group affiliated to “Islamic State” (IS) in Sinai, said in a Twitter message on Saturday.

IS, which is active in Egypt’s Sinai Province, said it brought down the passenger plane “in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land.”

Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C), shaking hands with a member of the armed forces during his official visit following unprecedented attacks in North Sinai, Egypt, 04 July 2014 (Photo: EPA/OFFICE OF THE EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++) Egyptian security forces are battling against IS and its affiliated militant networks in Sinai

Russian authorities told Interfax news agency the claim “can’t be considered accurate.”

“Based on our contacts with the Egyptian side, the information that the airplane was shot down must not be considered reliable,” Russian transport minister Maxim Sokolov told media.

In January 2014, Sinai-based militants shot down a military helicopter, but they are now known to have the capability to strike a high-flying passenger plane. The Russian airliner that crashed on Saturday was cruising at 31,000 feet when it lost contact with air traffic controllers, according to Egyptian aviation officials.

Egyptian security forces are battling against IS and its affiliated militant networks in Sinai, much of which has been declared a military zone.

German carrier Lufthansa and Air France-KLM said they would not fly over Sinai until the investigations about the crash were complete.

Shs/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, Interfax)

Egypt

Sinai attacks show ‘IS’ influence growing

The attacks in Sinai were claimed by Sinai Province, an Egyptian militant group that has pledged allegiance to the “Islamic State” group. Kristen McTighe reports from Cairo on its growing influence in the region.

As details of the deadly assault on the town of Sheikh Zuweid continue to emerge, the attack underscores the growing strength of “Islamic State” (IS) militants and the inability of the Egypt’s army to quell violence and restore stability, analysts say.

“This was very expected, it was not surprise at all,” Dr. Khalil al-Anani, a scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC and an expert on Islamist movements and Egyptian politics, told DW. “The Egyptian army doesn’t seem to be able to prevent such attacks, the regime policy failed and it shows [President Abdel-Fatah] el-Sissi is very weak right now.”

Formally known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the group first emerged following the country’s 2011 revolution and attacks were directed mainly against Israel. The government’s trouble controlling the country’s vast northern territory, where weapons smuggling from both Libya and the Gaza Strip was rife, has allowed the group to flourish.

Following the military-led ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, the group began to shift its focus to fighting against the government and security forces. In September 2013, the group claimed responsibility for one of its most high-profile attacks with an attempted assassination of then-Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, targeting his convoy with a car bomb.

Inspired by al Qaeda

Initially seen as inspired by al Qaeda, it renamed itself Sinai Peninsula and pledged allegiance to IS in November 2014. It has since been involved in suicide bombings, assassinations and beheadings.

The return of Egyptians fighting for militant groups in Libya, Syria and Iraq has also contributed to the group’s increasing capabilities.

“I think a lot of the reasoning behind their increased capabilities over the past couple of years has been that fighters have trained abroad and they’ve come back, not necessarily sent back by the Islamic State to cause trouble, but they’ve returned home after being abroad and they’ve brought these skills with them,” Zack Gold, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told DW.

But while the group has been carrying out frequent attacks against the army, the scale of and tactics used in the recent attack signals a sharp escalation in the group’s capabilities.

“What I think is unprecedented, and what I didn’t expect, was the assault on Sheikh Zuweid because it really seems to have moved their operations from attacks on the state security apparatus to attacks directly on the population,” said Gold. “They may have not run in and slaughtered people, but shooting in civilian areas, laying down IED in civilian areas, was basically an assault on the civilian population, even if you are laying down those traps for the military.”

New cycle of violence

Previously, Gold said, violence in the Sinai had become a “very predictable cycle” of militant escalations followed by massive military maneuvers inside the Sinai Penninsula since the July 2013 military coup.

“Frankly we’ve seen for all the hundreds of militants that have allegedly been killed or captured by the Egyptian state, the group itself has only been getting stronger,” said Gold.

Making the situation more difficult to gauge, for the past two years the Egyptian government has restricted media access to the northern Sinai region. “Our surprise at the attacks in Sinai ought to be a reminder that we know precious little about what happens in the peninsula – and especially regarding radical groups like Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis,” Dr H.A. Hellyer, associate fellow in International security at the Royal United Services Institute in London and the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy in DC., told DW.

The Egyptian army says its operations have been successful and often publishes grisly photos online like those posted by Egyptian army spokesman Mohamed Samir on his Facebook account following the attacks in Sheikh Zuweid showing scorched and bloodied bodies of what he said were “despicable terrorist elements that were eliminated.”

“Overall, the government’s response has not been helpful and in some ways it’s actually been harmful,” said Gold. “A lot of the policies that are put in place in order to clamp down on the militants are almost in no way affecting the militants maneuvering and they are putting a great deal of stress on the local population.”

Making life difficult

Since the military ouster of Morsi, Egyptian army operations in Sinai have included house demolitions and the forced relocation of thousands of residents to build a buffer zone between Egypt and the Gaza strip. Curfews have been imposed and Internet and phone networks are often shut down during military operations, making daily life even more difficult for locals who have long been caught in the crossfire of militants and the army. Locals have also been the victims of beheadings and executions by militants.

“I don’t know if this is necessarily in the immediate term radicalizing local populations…but even if they are not signing up and joining and operating with the jihadi forces, they certainly aren’t willing to join the military against them,” said Gold.

man sitting down copyright: KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images Sissi’s critics says he’s fighting on the wrong front

Others say the government’s repeatedly harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which former president Morsi hails, has distracted the government from the real threat of jihadist groups.

“There has been a crisis since 2013 and one of the main mistakes of the Sissi regime is that it is fighting in the wrong place,” said Dr. Al-Anani, from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “The Sissi regime will not be able to win the war against terrorism in Sinai without having a solution with the Muslim Brotherhood. They cannot fight such wars on both fronts at the same time.”

The government has consistently blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for attacks the group has denounced and that have been claimed by jihadist groups such as the Sinai Province. The Sinai Province views the Muslim Brotherhood as traitors, but it has criticized Morsi’s ouster by the military and declared war against Sissi’s government and the army.

“Why do they fail so badly vs IS? Because they’ve been busy using the IS threat to go after their non-IS opponents,” wrote Iyad El-Baghdadi, an activist originally from the United Arab Emirates but now based in Oslo, Norway after being expelled from the country, on his Twitter account.

“How many attacks has ABM (IS in #Egypt) launched and claimed, just to have Sissi say no, it was the MB (and the MB say it was Sissi)?” he added.

Twenty-five children were believed to have been on board, along with 192 adults – nearly 140 of who were women. According to the officially released list of passengers, many were traveling in families, as many passengers had the same family names.

Many of the passengers killed in the crash had VKontakte accounts, where they had posted many pictures from their holidays at the Egyptian resort. “Time please stand still,” one of the captions read.

A couple from St. Petersburg had been celebrating their one year wedding anniversary at the resort, having traveled to Egypt to mark their special day. “She called us yesterday, said that they had a great time on holiday, that the weather was very nice. She also sent some pictures, the two of them were looking so young and beautiful,” a friend of the two victims told RT, adding that the woman would have turned 35 years old tomorrow.

Two young men who became friends with two girls who were flying to St. Petersburg from Sharm El-Sheikh on Saturday morning were devastated by the news, they told Russia’s LifeNews. “We became friends at the resort, stayed at the same hotel… It’s so difficult to realize what has happened,” one man told the reporters, adding that they have decided to help the families of the dead women.

The Latest: Co-pilot’s wife: He complained about plane

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — The latest news on a Russian passenger plane that crashed Saturday on a flight from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to St. Petersburg, Russia.

11:15 p.m.

The wife of the co-pilot of the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt says her husband had complained about the plane’s condition, according to a Russian TV channel.

State-controlled NTV ran an interview Saturday with Natalya Trukhacheva, identified as the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukachev. She said that a daughter “called him up before he flew out. He complained before the flight that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired.”

An Egyptian official had previously said that before the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers the pilot had radioed and said the aircraft was experiencing technical problems and that he intended to try and land at the nearest airport.

7:25 p.m.

French airline Air France has decided to avoid flying over the Sinai Peninsula for safety reasons, following the crash of a Russian passenger plane in that region of Egypt.

A spokeswoman for the company said Saturday that Air France’s flights will avoid the area pending the investigation “as a precaution, until further notice.”

The airline will instead use other routes to the region’s airports.

The decision follows a similar move by Lufthansa announced earlier Saturday.

___

6:40 p.m.

The Russian airline whose plane crashed in the Sinai region on Saturday says the aircraft was in good shape and the pilot was experienced.

In a statement on its website, Moscow-based Metrojet says the A321 received required factory maintenance in 2014.

The statement identified the captain of the plane as Valery Nemov and said he had 12,000 air hours of experience, including 3,860 in A321s.

___

6:30 p.m.

Following the crash of a Russian plane in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, German airline Lufthansa says it will no longer fly across the area.

A spokeswoman for Lufthansa told The Associated Press that the company had decided in a meeting Saturday that the carrier would not fly over Sinai “as long as the cause for today’s crash has not been clarified.”

The spokeswoman said that “security is our highest priority.” She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

For the time being, the airline will instead use detours for destinations in region.

___

5:45 p.m.

The Islamic State group is claiming responsibility for bringing down the Russian Metrojet plane in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — but it has have offered no evidence and is not known to have the capability to do so.

It is not clear what caused the plane crash Saturday morning that killed 224 people on the flight from Egypt to St. Petersburg. Egyptian officials say the pilot reported technical difficulties and wanted to make an emergency landing. The Metrojet crashed in an area where Egyptian forces have been battling an Islamic insurgency.

Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov has scoffed at the IS claim, telling the Interfax news agency that such reports “must not be considered reliable.”

Militants in northern Sinai have not to date shot down any commercial airliners or fighter jets but there have been media reports that they have acquired Russian shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles. These missiles, however, are only effective against low-flying aircraft or helicopters.

___

5:20 p.m.

The airplane tracking site Flight Radar says current air traffic is operating normally over Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula despite a deadly crash there earlier in the day.

Air traffic in and out of Sharm el-Sheikh was normal and a flight just took off Saturday afternoon heading to Moscow. The Egyptian resort city on the Sinai Peninsula is a favorite destination for Russian tourists.

A Russian Metrojet plane crashed Saturday morning in a mountainous region in the Sinai after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people aboard. Officials said the pilot had reported a technical problem and was looking to make an emergency landing before radio contact with air traffic controllers went dead.

___

4:50 p.m.

Russian investigators are searching the Moscow offices of Metrojet, the company whose chartered plane has crashed in Egypt, killing all 224 people aboard.

Officers of Russia’s top investigative body, the Investigative Committee, were also questioning Metrojet employees and doing the same at the St. Petersburg-based Brisco tour agency that had contracted for the flight from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg.

Spokesman Vladimir Markin also said investigators are taking samples of fuel from the airport in Samara where the plane was last fueled.

The plane crashed Saturday morning in a mountainous region of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of the city of el-Arish, where Egyptian security forces have for years been battling an Islamic militant insurgency.

___

4:20 p.m.

Egypt’s foreign minister has promised to work closely with Russian officials and experts to find the cause of the deadly plane crash in the Sinai Peninsula.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called his Russian counterpart to express his condolences for the victims and stressed his country’s commitment “to uncover the circumstances surrounding the incident, in full cooperation and coordination with the Russian side.”

Egypt and Russia have grown closer diplomatically in recent months.

Officials say all 224 people on board the Airbus A321-200 were killed in the Saturday morning crash that came 23 minutes after the plane took off from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Those on board heading to St. Petersburg included 3 Ukrainians and 221 Russians.

According to Russian news agencies, the Russian airliner was a charter flight under contract with the St. Petersburg-based Brisco tour company.

___

4:05 p.m.

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus confirms that the Russian passenger plane that has crashed in Egypt is an A321-200.

The plane was made in 1997 and since 2012 has been operated by Metrojet, Airbus said in a written statement. The aircraft had accumulated some 56,000 flight hours in nearly 21,000 flights.

The airline manufacturer said an Airbus team of technical advisers “stands by ready to provide full technical assistance to the French Investigation Agency BEA and to the authorities in charge of the investigation.”

___

3:55 p.m.

A top Egyptian official says except for three Ukrainian passengers, everyone on board the Russian Metrojet flight that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was a Russian citizen.

Adel Mahgoub, chairman of the state company that runs Egypt’s civilian airports, spoke after officials said all those aboard the Russian charter flight from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg were killed in the crash Saturday morning.

An Egyptian cabinet statement said the 217 passengers included 138 women, 62 men and 17 children. Seven crew, all Russian, were also aboard.

___

3 p.m.

At a hotel near St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport, the friends and relatives of those on the Metrojet flight that crashed in Egypt are gathering to grieve.

Yulia Zaitseva said her friends, a newlywed couple named Elena Rodina and Alexqander Krotov, were on the flight. Both were 33. Egyptian officials said all 224 people on the flight were Russian and there were no survivors.

Zaitseva says Saturday that her friend “really wanted to go to Egypt, though I told her ‘why the hell do you want to go to Egypt?'”

She says “we were friends for 20 years. She was a very good friend who was ready to give everything to other people. To lose such a friend is like having your hand cut off.”

She said Rodina’s parents feel “like their lives are over.”

___

2:45 p.m.

U.S. officials have offered their condolences to Russia and to all the families involved in the crash of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reports that “We don’t know any details about it, but obviously the initial reports represent tremendous tragedy, loss, and we extend our condolences to the families and all those concerned.”

Kerry spoke Saturday while on a visit to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.

Egyptian officials say all 224 people — 217 passengers and seven crew — on the Metrojet flight were Russian and there were no survivors in Saturday’s crash in the Sinai Peninsula.

___

2:15 p.m.

Several Egyptian military and security officials say there are no survivors from the Russian passenger plane carrying 224 people that crashed into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The officials all spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. Aviation experts have reached the crash site near the city of el-Arish.

Officials say all the victims in Saturday’s Metrojet plane crash were Russian citizens.

___

2 p.m.

Egypt’s civil aviation minister says an investigative team has arrived at the Russian plane crash site in the Sinai peninsula to examine the debris and try to locate the flight’s data and cockpit voice recorders, commonly known as the black box.

Egyptian officials say the pilot of the Russian airliner that crashed early Saturday had reported technical difficulties and wanted to make an emergency landing before losing contact with air traffic controllers.

Adel Mahgoub, chairman of the state company that runs Egypt’s civilian airports, said the plane had successfully undergone technical checks at Sharm el-Sheikh’s airport before taking off. He said experts were going there to view security camera footage of the Metrojet plane at the airport.

The plane, carrying 217 passengers and 7 crew, all Russians, went down in an area where Egypt has been fighting an Islamic insurgency.

___

1:50 p.m.

The Kremlin has declared Nov. 1 a day of mourning for those who died in a Russian plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Adel Mahgoub, chairman of the state company that runs Egypt’s civilian airports, said all 217 passengers and seven crew on the Metrojet flight Saturday from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt to St. Petersburg were Russian citizens. The plane has crashed but there is no report yet on any death toll.

Russia’s Premier League says all its soccer matches this week would begin with a minute of silence for the crash victims.

Roughly three million Russian tourists come to Egypt every year — nearly a third of all of the country’s visitors in 2014 — mostly to Red Sea resorts in Sinai or in mainland Egypt.

___

1:30 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian emergency officials to fly immediately to the site of the Russian plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Russia’s Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov will coordinate the search and rescue operation in Egypt, the ministry said Saturday.

Authorities say the plane was carrying 217 passengers and 7 crew members from the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular tourist resort for Russians, back to St. Petersburg.

___

1:10 p.m.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top investigative body, has opened an investigation into the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula for possible violations of flight safety procedures.

Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin made the announcement in a statement Saturday.

An Egyptian aviation official says the pilot of Metrojet Flight 7K9268 had reported technical difficulties early Saturday and planned an emergency landing at the nearest airport before losing contact with Egyptian air traffic controllers and crashing.

Authorities say the plane was carrying 217 passengers and 7 crew members from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to St. Petersburg.

___

12:40 p.m.

An Egyptian aviation official says the pilot of the Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula had reported technical difficulties before losing contact with air traffic controllers.

Ayman al-Muqadem, a member of the Aviation Incidents Committee, said the pilot had reported his intention to attempt to land at the nearest airport.

Egyptian authorities say the Metrojet plane took off early Saturday from Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular Red Sea tourist destination, heading for St. Petersburg carrying 217 passengers and 7 crew members.

Plane tracking website Flight Radar said the flight disappeared from radar 23 minutes after takeoff. Egyptian authorities say it crashed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. The crash site is in an area where the government is fighting an Islamic insurgency.

___

12:25 p.m.

Egyptian authorities say the wreckage of a Russian passenger jet has been found in area where Egyptian forces are fighting an Islamic militant insurgency.

Egyptian security forces have been waging major operations against a burgeoning insurgency in the northern Sinai peninsula, including the city of el-Arish. Egyptian officials say the wreckage was found in the Hassana area south of el-Arish.

The long-restive northern Sinai has seen a spike in attacks targeting security forces since the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.  An Islamic State affiliate has claimed responsibility for many of the deadly attacks.  The Egyptian government has restricted journalists’ access to the area.

___

11:55 a.m.

Russia’s civil air agency is expected to have a news conference shortly to talk about the Russian Metrojet passenger plane that Egyptian authorities say has crashed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Officials were gathering at a hotel adjacent to the St. Petersburg airport, where Egyptian officials say the plane was heading with 217 passengers and 7 crew members.

The plane took off early Saturday from Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular Red Sea tourist destination for Russians. Plane tracking website Flight Radar said Metrojet flight #7K9268 disappeared over Egypt 23 minutes after takeoff.

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