American intelligence officials have not seen anything concrete to indicate that this weekend’s crash of a flight traveling from Egypt to Russia was caused by terrorists, the nation’s top spy said on Monday morning.
That’s despite the fact that extremists associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have claimed responsibility for shooting down the jet, killing all 224 people onboard.
“We don’t have any direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet,” Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperAfghanistan disaster puts intelligence under scrutiny Domestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? MORE said at the Defense One summit in Washington.
ISIS has a “very aggressive chapter in the Sinai,” Clapper added, referring to the Egyptian peninsula where Kogalymavia Flight 9268 broke into pieces before hitting the ground.
“But we really don’t know, and I think once the black boxes have been analyzed — which they’ve recovered — then perhaps we’ll know more,” he said.
Nicholas Rasmussen, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, echoed the point.
“At this point we’ve got nothing that we’ve seen in intelligence to corroborate a specific nexus to terrorist activity,” he said. “You’ll notice I said ‘at this point,’ because it’s an unfolding picture.”
“We’ve already tried to reach out and collect as much intelligence as we can,” Rasmussen added.
Russian officials have dismissed ISIS’s claim to have shot down the airliner.
Among other factors, watchers question whether the organization would have the capability to shoot down an airliner traveling at 31,000 feet.
Clapper on Monday said that it was “unlikely” that the extremist group would be able to blow the plane out of the sky, “but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
The St. Petersburg-bound Airbus 321-200 appears to have to come apart midair, not long after taking off from the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Kogalymavia is also known as Metrojet.
On Monday, Kogalymavia executive Alexander Smirnov said that the company had ruled out “technical problems” and “human error” as the cause of the crash.
Instead, “an external influence” is likely to blame, Smirnov said, without going into additional detail.
Pilots did not issue any distress calls before the crash, Egyptian officials said on Saturday.
Instead, the plane simply “disappeared from the radar.”
A handful of international airliners have said that they will avoid flying over the Sinai, following the Saturday morning crash.
--This report was updated at 10:21 a.m.