UK: Russian plane might have been bombed

UK: Russian plane might have been bombed
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The British government believes that the Russian airliner that crashed into the Egyptian desert last weekend might have been bombed, an official said on Wednesday in a startling admission that increases scrutiny on the possibility that terrorism was responsible for the death of all 224 people onboard.

In a statement, the office of Prime Minister David Cameron cautioned that the investigation hasn't concluded and at this point "cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed.”

“But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device," the statement said.

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The prime minister’s office declined to specify what new information prompted the initial conclusion.

As a result, the United Kingdom is temporarily halting all inbound flights from Sharm el-Sheikh. The downed plane departed from the Egyptian resort town before crashing into the Sinai Peninsula.   

Cameron's office said the step is a “precautionary measure” that will allow U.K. flight experts to travel to the airport and “make an assessment of the security arrangements.” The inspection should be finished by Wednesday night.

The U.K. government is also changing its travel guidance, it said, and is now advising against all but essential travel through the Sharm el-Sheikh airport. 

“That means there will be no U.K. passenger flights out to Sharm el-Sheikh from now,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said. 

The move by the U.K. immediately intensified questions about whether the St. Petersburg-bound Kogalymavia Flight 9268 was blown up as part of a terrorist plot before it crashed into a desolate part of the Egyptian desert on Saturday. The airline is also known as Metrojet.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took credit for the crash, though Egyptian and Russian officials have largely dismissed the claim. 

Among other points, analysts doubt that the extremist group would have the technological capability to shoot down an airplane traveling at 31,000 feet. That would not necessarily rule out the possibility that a bomb had been planted on the plane, however.   

Earlier this week, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper refused to rule out ISIS’s involvement, though he noted there has not been “any direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet.”

Executives with the Russian airline company have ruled out “technical problems” and “human error” as the cause of the airplane crash. Instead, the plane likely came apart after an “external influence,” an executive said.  

— Updated at 5:15 p.m.