The Egyptian official heading the international committee investigating the Russian Metrojet A-321 plane crash in Sinai said on Monday that preliminary investigations have not provided any evidence of a terrorist attack.
The statement from the Egyptian official conflicts with the conclusions of Russian investigators, who stated previously that evidence of a bomb had been found.
“The committee has not yet received any information that indicates unlawful interference or a terrorist act. Consequently, the committee is continuing its work regarding the technical investigation,” said Ayman El-Mokaddem in a statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Another statement by the ministry asserted that the committee is independent, and that the Egyptian government does not interfere in the investigations.
“The international committee that investigates the Russian plane crash is an independent committee formed according to Annex 13 of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the Egyptian government does not interfere in its work, investigation procedures or released statements,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has declined to comment on the Egyptian report, according to official news agency TASS.
“No, I cannot comment on the statement of the Egyptian authorities,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.
“I can recall the conclusion of our experts from the relevant agencies who arrived at the conclusion that it was a terrorist attack,” he added.
The civil aviation ministry said the committee had completed a “preliminary report which was sent to all accredited representatives of countries participating in the investigation, in addition to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)”.
All concerned parties, including insurance company officials and the Russian investigations team, were allowed to examine the wreckage at the site, according to the statement.
“This was done in accordance with international regulations, before transferring the wreckage from the site for the subsequent investigation phases,” the statement read.
Background checks are also being conducted on the pilots’ licences and their medical history.
“Detailed examinations of the information related to the pilots’ training are currently being conducted, after translating this information from the Russian language,” added the statement.
Fifteen trips to the wreckage site were organised by Egyptian Air Force helicopters.
The Egyptian army is still coordinating the transfer of the wreckage from the accident site to a secure location in Cairo, where the committee will begin a new phase of investigation.
Russian federal security announced on 17 November that the plane crash in Sinai on 31 October was caused by a bomb, stating that traces of a homemade explosive device containing 1 kg of TNT were found in the wreckage.
The Metrojet A321 plane crashed on 31 October, a few minutes after its departure from Sharm El-Sheikh airport, en route to the Russian city of St. Petersburg.
The Egyptian government also announced on Monday that it will appoint an international security company to review all security measures in the Egyptian airports.
Representatives of various companies have already offered their services to Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and Minister of Civil Aviation Hossam Kamal, and the government will make its selection soon, according to an official statement on Monday.
Meanwhile, speaking to Daily News Egypt, Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based political analyst and journalist for Sputnik news agency and an expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies and Predictions, said this is one of those uncomfortable situations where two close partners have a major difference of interpretation over something that has transpired and affects them both.
However, it is not likely that either party will push their argument to the point of aggravating bilateral relations.
“Russia concluded that the Sinai crash was due to terrorism, and this understanding is also shared by Western intelligence agencies that purportedly intercepted information which verifies this claim. This is a very rare instance of agreement between Russia and the West, and is even more notable because of the tense geopolitical atmosphere in which it occurred,” Korybko said.
On the other hand, Egypt maintains that terrorism is not to blame for the tragedy that occurred, which is the reason why Russia had to politely refute it, he added.
“Seen from the perspective of the Egyptian leadership, whether the crash was due to terrorism or not, it’s economically problematic for the country that the widespread perception is that it was and that tourists are no longer streaming into the country like before,” Korybko continued.
He added that it can be understood that the Egyptian report might be an attempt to try to reassure the international public that Egypt is a safe place to travel to, and hence bring back some of the tourist revenue that it has lost since then.
“It’s not to suggest that the authorities are necessarily lying in any manner because even they admit that the technical aspect of the investigation is still ongoing and hasn’t been completed yet, but it does seem as though this was a premature statement that was probably made with the economic intent that was just described,” Korybko explained.
On his part, former Egyptian minister of civil aviation Wael El-Maa’dawy told Daily News Egypt that the committee released the statements to keep people updated and this is not the final result.
“The report shows that the committee did not find any evidence of an explosion or explosive materials to date,” said El-Maa’dawy stressing that the committee reports are the only legal documents regarding the accident.
He added that proof of any explosive material must come out of internationally recognised labs.
“All those who claimed that the accident was due to a terrorist act did not supply any proof or documents,” he added, stressing that any other updates will be added to the report.