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Investigators Look For Signs As To What Brought Down Russian Plane


Hours after a Russian passenger jet crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last week, an affiliate of the Islamic State took responsibility. Russia and Egypt dismissed the claim, but something led Britain's prime minister and now President Obama to talk of a possible bombing. Their information, whatever it is, apparently comes from intelligence agencies. Jonathan Marcus covers defense and security issues for the BBC and joins us now from London. Good morning.

JONATHAN MARCUS: Yes, good morning.

MONTAGNE: What caused Obama and also Prime Minister David Cameron to suspect a terrorist bomb?

MARCUS: We haven't had a great deal of detail, but it clearly seems to have been what they call chatter, intercepted messages between, we believe. I asked affiliated groups in the Sinai Peninsula. We don't know precisely what was said. We don't know precisely the nature of the intelligence. But I think what's really most interesting is the action which the British in particular took so swiftly. There was clearly something there that led them to believe that this had indeed most probably been a bomb that brought down the Russian Airbus, and that's why the moved so swiftly to suspend flights between Britain and Sharm el-Sheikh.

MONTAGNE: Well, yes, and, of course, the plane - this Russian plane was carrying vacationers mostly from Russia from Sharm el-Sheikh, which is a very popular beach resort in Egypt, and very many British tourists end up going there. So what, how many were stranded, something like 20,000, but they're on their way home now.

MARCUS: Not entirely clear, actually, you're right. It's a very, very popular holiday destination, not least at this time of the year. We think there are roughly 20,000 or so British holidaymakers in Sharm el-Sheikh at the moment. Clearly, some were due to return home. Others may now wish to cut short their holidays and come home. The plan had been as of last night to bring flights back from Sharm el-Sheikh. Today, there were scheduled some 29 flights to bring people home. There were particular restrictions. For example, haul baggage, as we understand it, was to be carried on separate aircraft. The passengers would only be able to have their hand luggage with them. Just in the past few minutes, though, we've heard a press release from easyJet, which is one of the budget operators, budget airlines, who fly the route. And they say that the situation in Sharm el-Sheikh has changed this morning and that certainly their flights have been suspended by the Egyptian authorities, they say. We're still seeking clarification, but it may be actually that none of these flights come back today. We're still, as I say, trying to find out what exactly is going on.

MONTAGNE: All right, well, Egyptian authorities did recover both black boxes. That's the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. What is known about their contents at this point?

MARCUS: Very little, obviously, it's the Russian authorities and the Egyptians who are in the lead there in analyzing this material. The aircraft, I think, was registered in Ireland. The Irish authorities would have some input as well and also, of course, the manufacturers, the French and the Germans. It's an Airbus airline, or obviously. Of course, it's not just the data recorders and the voice recorder, the latter of which we believe we've been told was damaged. But because this occurred over land and the crash scene was very quickly identified, it's a grim and gloomy process. But they have the bodies. They're able to conduct postmortems. They have the luggage. They have whatever survives of the structure of the aircraft. And, of course, that is going to give a huge amount of forensic data that will be used as well to try and drop a picture of what exactly happened.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

MARCUS: Pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Jonathan Marcus is defense and diplomatic correspondent for the BBC, speaking to us from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.