LONDON, Nov 5, (Agencies): British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday it was increasingly likely that a bomb brought down a Russian airliner over Egypt with the loss of 224 lives, setting him at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Britain, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands have suspended flights to and from Sharm al- Sheikh, leaving thousands of European tourists stranded in the Red Sea resort where the doomed airliner originated. Egypt, which depends on tourism as a crucial source of revenue, said the decision to suspend flights was unjustified and should be reversed at once. It said there was no evidence a bomb was to blame.
A Sinai-based group affiliated to Islamic State, the militant group that has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria, has claimed responsibility for the crash, which if confirmed would make it the first attack on civil aviation by the world’s most violent jihadist organisation.
Moscow, which launched air strikes against Islamist fighters including Islamic State in Syria more than a month ago, says it is premature to reach conclusions that the flight was attacked. In a telephone call, Putin told Cameron it was important that assessments of the cause of the crash be based on information from the official investigation, Interfax news agency reported.
Cameron, who hosted Egypt’s President Abdul Fatah el-Sisi on Thursday for a previously scheduled visit, said: “We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but it looks increasingly likely that that was the case.” His Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said it was “a significant possibility” Islamic State was responsible, given a range of information, including the claim of responsibility.
Britain said it was working with airlines and Egyptian authorities to put in place additional security and screening measures at the airport to allow Britons to get home. It hoped flights bound for Britain could leave on Friday. If a bomb brought down the Airbus A321, that would devastate Egypt’s tourism industry, still recovering from years of political turmoil. Shares in holi-day companies Thomas Cook and TUI Group fell. US Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on Fox news that evidence so far indicated an Islamic State attack “with an explosive device in the airplane”.