A Russian passenger airliner with 224 hundred on board has crashed in Egypt on Saturday with early reports indicating no survivors.
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Adel Mahgoub, chairman of the state company that runs Egypt's civilian airports, has said that all 217 passengers and the seven crew members were all Russian citizens. Later reports indicate that nationals from Ukraine and Belarus may also have been on board.
Though an armed militant group in the Sinai has reportedly claimed responsibility for downing the airliner, there has been no confirmation the crash resulted from an onboard explosion or by a surface-to-air missile. Both the Russian and Egyptian governments were quick to dismiss those claims.
The Guardian reports:
A militant group affiliated to Islamic State in Egypt has claimed responsibility for shooting down the Russian passenger plane as it flew through Sinai peninsula on Saturday.
The claim was circulated by supporters on Twitter and also published on the Aamaq news website, which has been used on a semi-official basis by Islamic State to circulate propaganda in the past.
There is no confirmation from any other sources that the plane crashed as a result of terrorist activity - and Egyptian officials were quick to rule that out as a cause of the crash earlier this morning.
Operated by the Russian airline Kogalymavia (also known as Metrojet), the Moscow Times reports the plane, an Airbus A321-200, was flying from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg when it lost contact with flight control over the Sinai Peninsula.
According to the Associated Press:
A civil aviation ministry statement said Egyptian military search and rescue teams found the wreckage of the passenger jet in the Hassana area some 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of the city of el-Arish, an area in northern Sinai where Egyptian security forces have for years battled a burgeoning Islamic militant insurgency which is now led by a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group.
The Egyptian officials said the aircraft was cruising at 36,000 feet (about 11,000 meters) when contact with air traffic controllers was lost.
"I now see a tragic scene," an Egyptian security officer told Reuters from the crash site. "A lot of dead on the ground and many who died whilst strapped to their seats."
The plane, he continued, "split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside."
A statement issued by Kogalymavia cited by the Guardian says the company believes there is "no grounds" as yet to believe the disaster was caused by human error, but so far neither authorities in Egypt or Russia are publicly speculating about what may have caused the plane to fall from the sky.
The tragedy comes amid heightened political tensions in the Middle East, with Moscow recently escalating its military footprint in Syria and as diplomatic teams from key regional powers—including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan and others—concluded two days of talks in Vienna with delegations from the EU, U.S. and Russia.