FBI to help Russia investigate plane crash in Egypt

The New York Times reports: The F.B.I. has agreed to help the Russian government with its investigation into the deadly crash of a Russian charter plane in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, senior American officials said on Saturday.

Some American officials said that the Russians want help doing a forensic analysis to determine what brought down the Airbus A321-200, while other officials said that the request from the Russians was more general. Although most of the debris is scattered over nearly eight square miles in the desert, some parts of the plane were taken to Russia for analysis.

It is rare for the Russians to make such a request, which was first reported on Friday by CBS News, and some American officials interpreted it as a sign of the challenges facing investigators. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Russian officials said Saturday that more than 70,000 of their citizens were in Egypt awaiting the arrival of jets being sent to carry them home. British officials said on Saturday that there were about 19,000 Britons at Sharm el Sheikh and that it would take 10 days to get them all home.

The exodus from Sharm el Sheikh has dealt a devastating blow to Egypt’s already sputtering tourism industry. The loss of foreign currency from tourists is likely to greatly increase downward pressure on the value of the Egyptian pound, compounding the damage to the broader economy.

Only a small number of Western European airlines operated direct flights to Sharm el Sheikh before the crash, flying from Britain, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Airlines from some countries, including France and the Netherlands, stopped offering direct service in recent years, in part out of security concerns, European officials said. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Six days after the crash of a Russian charter flight from the Egyptian resort area of Sharm el Sheikh, the government of Egypt is finding itself increasingly isolated in its resistance to the possibility that a terrorist’s bomb brought down the plane.

Britain has concluded the cause was most likely a bomb. President Obama has said pointedly that he takes the possibility “very seriously.” After standing arm in arm with Egypt for six days in discouraging any such discussion of terrorism, even President Vladimir V. Putin on Friday suspended Russia’s flights to Egypt for fear of another attack, stranding tens of thousands of tourists at the resort.

But the government of Egypt, critically dependent on the money tourists bring to Sharm el Sheikh’s resorts, has dismissed any suggestion that a bombing killed the 224 people aboard as “premature,” “surprising” and “unwarranted.”

The widening chasm between Egypt and the world, some say, recalls an earlier crash, in 1999, when EgyptAir Flight 990 plunged into the ocean off the coast of Nantucket Island. Although American investigators said flight records pointed to the decisions of an Egyptian pilot, the Egyptian government blamed a malfunction in the Boeing airplane, and 17 years later the Egyptian-American dispute over the cause is still unresolved.

In that case, the Egyptian investigation was cloaked in mystery and, critics say, politicized from that start.

“I don’t anticipate the Egyptian investigation here to be any more transparent than their work on EgyptAir 990,” James E. Hall, the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board who oversaw that investigation, said in an interview. [Continue reading…]

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