EgyptAir mystery deepens despite hunt for answers

If aircraft downed by Islamists, the jihadists are tardy in claiming credit for grisly crime

Relatives of passengers and crew of the missing EgyptAir jet waited for news at Cairo airport on Thursday (May 19). Egyptian authorities ushered the families into a closed-off waiting area, but those who emerged from the VIP hall said they had been given no information. Video: Reuters

 

The Mediterranean yielded the first grisly remains of EgyptAir flight MS804 on Friday:  a human limb, two seats, several suitcases and aircraft parts. The European Space Agency released a satellite photograph of an oil slick that may have come from the Airbus A320.

But the mystery of the crash, which claimed 66 lives early Thursday morning, remains intact. Why did an aircraft in good condition, flying in fine weather, break off radio contact, swerve violently to the left, then twirl full circle to the right as it plummeted?

A bomb inside the cabin would have caused the aircraft to implode, one aviation expert told France Info radio, speculating that explosives hidden outside the cabin might have caused the swerving motion.

The French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, “All hypotheses are being studied but none is favoured, because we have absolutely no indication what caused [the crash].”

If the aircraft was downed by jihadists, why have they not claimed responsibility? Such groups usually post voice or video recordings vaunting their atrocities within hours.  

Possible culprits include Islamic State, which carried out last November’s attacks in Paris and the March attacks in Brussels; Wilayat Sinai (Province of Sinai), Islamic State’s local franchise in Egypt, which bombed a Russian aircraft last October, killing 224 people; and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which claimed credit for the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

The Egyptian navy found the first passenger belongings late yesterday morning, 290km north of Alexandria. The news was repeated by the Greek defence minister Panos Kammenos, but was treated with caution after a premature announcement that wreckage had been found on Thursday. Egyptian army spokesman Brig Gen Mohammed Samir said “there is no doubt” the debris is from the EgyptAir plane.

The Mediterranean is more than 3,000ft deep where the wreckage was found. A submarine is en route to search for the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder. 

Recovery effort

Greece

Egypt and France lost 30 and 15 citizens respectively in the crash. France diverted a Falcon 50 reconnaissance aircraft from the fight against the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean to the search mission and is sending a second maritime patrol aircraft and a navy ship.

Since the crash, the French Gendarmerie du Transport Aérien (GTA) has reviewed all video footage of passengers and crew clearing immigration and security at Roissy airport. The GTA has also interviewed all staff who checked passengers, loaded baggage or food trolleys or cleaned the plane. 

The European Space Agency ESA released a satellite photograph of a 2km-long oil slick, about 40km southeast of the aircraft’s last-known location. ESA cautioned there was no guarantee the slick was from the Egyptian Airbus.

In the first official recognition of the air disaster, the office of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi issued a statement saying the field marshal “with utmost sadness and regret mourns the victims on board the EgyptAir flight who were killed”.

According to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, the civil aviation minister Sherif Fathi told families yesterday that there are “no survivors”.

As the debris was found, information emerged about the victims. The only Briton was Richard Osman (40). The son of an Egyptian doctor, he worked in the gold-mining industry and lived in Jersey with his French wife and two children. Their baby daughter was born less than a month ago.

An entire family from the French town of Angers were killed. The parents sold food in open-air markets throughout the Angevine region, and were taking their two-year-old son and four-month-old infant on holiday.

An Egyptian family of four was also killed. Relatives of Salah Abu Laban, his wife Sahar, their son Ghassan and daughter-in-law Reem wept as they said prayers for them at Cairo’s Sultan Hussein mosque yesterday.

In the US, the tragedy became a political football between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Trump tweeted early on Thursday morning: “Looks like yet another terrorist attack . . . When we will get tough, smart and vigilant? Great hate and sickness!”

Trump later expanded on his tweet, saying, “Look at the carnage all over the world including the World Trade Center, San Bernardino, Paris, the USS Cole, Brussels . . . She and our totally ignorant president won’t even use the term radical Islamic terrorism.”

Clinton said the outburst was part of a pattern of  “irresponsible, dangerous, reckless comments” by Trump. “I have concluded that he is not qualified to be president of the United States,” she told CNN.