In Reversal, Egypt Says Terrorists Downed Russian Jet Over Sinai


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Wreckage from the Russian jetliner in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last year.

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Maxim Grigoryev/Russia’s Emergency Ministry, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After months of cautious silence, Egypt acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that terrorists had downed the Russian jetliner that broke up over the Sinai Peninsula in the fall.

The authorities made the unexpected admission after strongly urging Egyptians and the world for months to await the results of an international investigation Egypt is leading. The crash dealt a serious blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry: an important source of hard currency for the country, which relies heavily on imports.

“Those who downed the flight, what were they hoping for? Just to hit tourism?” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi asked, almost casually, while on the subject of terrorism near the end of a long speech about the country’s development plans for 2030, which was broadcast live. “No, but also to hit relations. To hit relations with Russia.”

Hours after the October downing of the Airbus A321-200, which killed 224 people, Egypt’s local Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility. The group said it had brought down the plane with a bomb concealed in a soda can.

In the following weeks, Russian and Western officials quickly concluded that a bomb had indeed exploded on board and that terrorism was the cause of the crash. But Egypt, apparently unwilling to publicly concede that terrorists could have penetrated its powerful security apparatus, continued to rule out a bombing. In the most recent update on the Egyptian investigation, on Dec. 14, the government’s chief investigator, Ayman al-Muqaddam, said he had not received “any evidence of unlawful interference or terrorist activity” in connection with the crash.

The Russian aircraft disintegrated in the air over the Sinai Desert 23 minutes after taking off from the popular Red Sea resort city of Sharm el Sheikh on Oct. 31. The flight was a charter operation by Metrojet, a Russian airline taking its passengers, nearly all of them Russian tourists, to St. Petersburg.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has been fighting an Islamic insurgency that mostly targets security posts in the volatile northern parts of the Sinai Peninsula. The militants gained momentum after the 2013 military overthrow of the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and have struck mainland Egypt several times over the past year.

Mr. Sisi seemed unusually ill-tempered during much of his speech — a sharp contrast to the calm, sweet-talking paternal persona he had carved for himself during and after Mr. Morsi’s ouster, which he led with popular and media support. Mr. Sisi, a former field marshal, warned enemies against exploiting his “patience and good manners to bring down the state” and vowed to remove those who did “off the face of the Earth.”

“Please, don’t listen to anyone but me,” he told the public, wagging a finger. “I am dead serious. I am not a man who lies or beats around the bush.”

Visibly angry, the president went on to painstakingly list the country’s economic woes to his audience, before suggesting that Egyptians donate a pound, about 10 cents, to the government each day to help ease the crisis.

At one point, he said he would put himself up for sale to help the economy. “If it were possible for me to be sold, I would sell myself,” he said.

The president’s offer brought mass ridicule on social media and prompted Ahmed Ghanim, an Egyptian political activist living in the United States, to list Mr. Sisi for sale on the online auction website eBay.

The offer for a “slightly used” former field marshal garnered over $100,000 in bids within a few hours before eBay took down the posting Wednesday afternoon.

Correction: February 24, 2016

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article omitted part of a quotation from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The complete quotation is as follows: “Those who downed the flight, what were they hoping for? Just to hit tourism? No, but also to hit relations. To hit relations with Russia, to hit relations with Italy. And if they could with the whole world, they would. So we would be alone and isolated.”



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