Russia mourns 224 dead in mystery plane crash

Paper planes: ‘Condolences to relatives from Kiev residents’ reads one tribute in Ukraine. © PA

Over 200 people, including 25 children, were killed after a plane crashed over Egypt this weekend. Islamic State claimed responsibility; officials disagreed. Where is the truth?

There were 224 people aboard flight KGL9268 on Saturday morning. Most were tourists returning from an idyllic holiday in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort near Egypt’s Red Sea. But just 23 minutes after take off, the plane had crashed in the mountainous Sinai peninsula. No survivors have been found.

Although four Ukrainian tourists were among the dead, the overwhelming majority were from Russia. As the country observed a day of mourning, relatives gathered at St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport, where the plane had been due to land. A friend of two newlyweds said that losing them after 20 years was ‘like having your hand cut off’.

But while many grieved, the investigation into the cause of the crash had only just begun. There are conflicting reports about whether the pilot requested an emergency landing; the wife of the plane’s co-pilot appeared on Russian TV to say that her husband had complained of its technical condition; others highlighted two criminal investigations into safety infringements by the flight’s airline company Kogalymavia.

In the UK, the front page of The Sunday Times pointed to another, more sinister suspect: ‘Did Isis down Russian airliner?’

The terrorist organisation Islamic State has gained a strong presence in northern Sinai. On Saturday, it released a statement claiming that it had been ‘able to bring down’ the plane, in retaliation to Russian airstrikes in Syria.

The claim was quickly dismissed by Russian and Egyptian officials. The plane was flying 9,450m above ground — too far for surface-to-air missiles to reach, said security experts. But others were more cautious — Islamic State has not previously claimed credit for an attack it did not commit.

Tourism in Egypt has been decimated after years of revolution and political upheaval. Just a few days ago, the country’s tourism minister Hisham Zaazou launched an international campaign called ‘This is Egypt’ to rebuild the industry.

The UK’s Foreign Office does not advise tourists against Egyptian travel, but warns them to be ‘vigilant’ against the ‘high threat’ of terrorism.

Fear itself

Islamic State is a terrible organisation, but officials in Egypt insist that it was not involved in this particular incident. It is important not to panic unnecessarily, they say — the militants may have a presence in small areas of Egypt, but the government keeps tourists as safe as possible.

This may be true, some reply, but it is not the whole story. Fear fuels terrorism, not violence. It doesn’t matter whether Islamic State was behind the crash or not; just by claiming responsibility, they could do huge damage to Egypt. This power to spread uncertainty is far scarier than any individual act.

You Decide

  1. Would you be comfortable going on holiday to Egypt after the weekend’s news?
  2. How should the world respond to terrorist organisations intent on spreading fear?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a worker in Egypt’s tourism industry. Write a short piece reflecting on the changes in the country over the last few years, and how they have affected you.
  2. Use The Day’s archives to create a timeline of upheaval in Egypt since 2011.

Some People Say...

“Fear is the most powerful force on Earth.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Islamic State is really scary.
Of course, and that fear is completely understandable. Terrorism is all about acts which are deliberately calculated to spread fear and intimidation — that’s what distinguishes it from other, more random acts of violence. That’s why the best defence against terrorism is not to let it change your behaviour. Be careful, of course, but don’t let it stop you from living a normal life.
What will happen next?
Russian officials have confirmed that the plane broke up ‘in mid-air’, but say the full investigation could take months. The black boxes, which record flight information, have been found and sent for analysis. Three airlines — Emirates, Air France and Lufthansa — have said they will not fly over the northern Sinai region, but most are continuing as normal.

Word Watch

Sinai peninsula
A large, triangular land mass connecting Egypt’s African mainland to the Middle East.
Technical condition
The plane was built in 1997, and suffered a ‘tail strike’ when landing in Cairo in 2001. It has been operated by Kogalymavia since 2012. Russian MP Vladimir Gutenev has said he will seek to ban planes over 15 years old.
Kogalymavia
Russian officials found ‘violations’ when they last inspected the company — also known as Metrojet — in 2014, but these were remedied. In 2011, a fire broke out on one of its jets as it taxied before take off, killing three people and injuring 43.
Islamic State
Also known as Isis, Isil, and Daesh, IS is not a state but a terrorist organisation which aims to create a ‘caliphate’ of extremist Sharia — Islamic law — across the Middle East.
Airstrikes
Russia has been supporting Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, with airstrikes against rebel forces and Islamic State throughout October.
Decimated
Revenue from Egypt’s world-famous ancient monuments fell from £250m in 2010 to just £10.5m in 2014. Things have begun to pick up in 2015 so far.

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