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US Intel suggests ISIS bomb brought down the plane

Days after Egyptian authorities dismissed claims that ISIS bomb might have brought down the Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, a U.S. intelligence analysis now suggests that the terror group or its affiliates operating in the region planted a bomb on the plane. Until Wednesday, U.S. officials had said there was no hard evidence that the ISIS or any other terrorist group blew the Metrojet-operated Airbus out of the sky, killing all 224 people on board. If it turns out that ISIS has developed the capability to target planes, Russia would likely increase its military presence in Syria which eventually will raise the stakes for the US-led coalition in its battle against the ISIS.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said his government believes there is a “significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft”. And a Middle East source briefed on intelligence matters also said it appears likely someone placed a bomb aboard the plane. The British government on Wednesday suspended all flights to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Metrojet Flight 9268 took off on Saturday bound for St. Petersburg, over concerns that the plane was brought down by an act of terrorism.

A European official briefed on the investigation said an initial inspection of the flight data recorder recovered from the plane debris indicated that the recording ceased abruptly, evidence that would support the theory of a midair explosion. U.S. military officials said Tuesday that a satellite over the region at the time of the crash detected a flash of light just as the jet broke apart, indicating it had blown by, possibly by a bomb, an accidental explosion of fuel or a catastrophic technical failure.

But American defense, intelligence and counterterrorism officials cautioned that it was a little premature to jump into any firm conclusions. Though U.S. is not part of the formal investigation on the ground and relies on the little information provided by the Egyptian and Russian authorities leading the investigation, the officials said there was no conclusive evidence yet to indicate a deliberate explosion.

Intelligence also suggests someone at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport might have helped get a bomb onto the plane, one U.S. official said. “This airport has lax security. It is known for that. But there is intelligence suggesting an assist from someone at the airport,” the official said.

Travelers have also described their shocking experiences at the airport including bags left unattended, disinterested security staff and baggage checkers playing games on their phones – even though Egyptian officials say the airport’s standards are in line with international requirements.

Another U.S. official said the signs pointing to ISIS are partially based on monitoring of internal messages of the terrorist group. Those messages are separate from the public claims of responsibility that an affiliate of the Islamic State made immediately after the crash, that official said. The group allegedly reiterated that claim Wednesday in an audio recording circulated among militant supporters online, saying they would reveal further details of their involvement in due course. The audio message repeatedly said the group had taken down the jet and challenged the international team of investigators to provide contrary evidence.

"Find your black boxes and analyze them, give us the results of your investigation and the depth of your expertise and prove we didn't do it or how it was downed," the message said. "Die with your rage. We are the ones with God's blessing who brought it down. And God willing, one day we will reveal how, at the time we desire."

There is no evidence the plane was rigged with an explosive device before take-off, but the revelation by investigators that the plane broke apart before hitting the ground and those alleged claims by the Sinai Province, the group operating in the north Sinai region where the plane went down, has led to such speculation. So far the group has confined its attacks to vehicle-borne bombs and short-range shoulder-fired rockets that have at times taken Egyptian armed forces almost half a day to repel.