All flights between the Russian Federation and Egypt were suspended from 8 pm Moscow time Friday, a statement from Russia’s Transportation Ministry said.
The decision to suspend flights is “solely connected with security” reasons, and does not suggest that Moscow considers the A321 crash at Sinai, Egypt, to be a terrorist attack, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich appealed to tourists to treat the matter with understanding.
“As of now, there are no flights to Egypt out of Russian airports. We ask all citizens and tourists to understand that security issues are of primary concern. The price of each life has no limits or borders, and these are our first concerns,” he told reporters.
The flights will be suspended until “a proper level of air communication security is established, Peskov said.
Dvorkovich clarified that while the most difficult question is the return of tourists from Egypt, there are no plans for emergency evacuations.
Around 45,000 Russians are currently on holiday in Egypt, TASS cited figures provided by Russia’s tourism agency.
President Vladimir Putin has instructed the government to ensure the safe return of Russian citizens from Egypt and to cooperate with the Egyptian authorities on establishing air traffic security.
“Egypt has provided Russian investigators with access to all fragments of the crashed plane as well as the baggage. There is need for “absolute objectivity” and “confirmed data” to establish the causes of the disaster, FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov told a meeting of the Russian Anti-Terror Committee.
On Friday too, new theories emerged on the plane crash at Sinai pointing to a possible bomb planted on the plane.
Outrage over Charlie Hebdo cartoons
For Russians still mourning the victims of the passenger plane crash over Sinai, a cartoon on the tragedy that appeared in the latest issue of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo came as a big shock and it unleashed public fury.
Many Russians immediately took to the social media and condemned the lack of sensitivity of the editors who passed the cartoons.
One Twitter user wondered why the staff at Charlie Hebdo had not printed a cartoon of their team members shot by jihadists in Paris in January. “That would have been really funny for them,” the user quipped,
Others said people should better ignore such “disgusting provocations” by cartoonists.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the cartoons “blasphemy,” adding they have nothing to do with democracy or self-expression.
A Russian lawmaker called them blasphemy and insult.
“I believe it is blasphemy and ridicules the memory of those who lost their lives as a result of this catastrophe. This should not be used by any media organizations in any form whatsoever or in any particular genre in which they may specialize,” said Igor Morozov, a member of the Federation Council.
The first cartoon shows parts of the aircraft and a passenger falling toward the ground, while an Islamic State(IS) militant, armed with a gun, ducks for cover to avoid the falling debris. Underneath the caricature is the caption: “Daesh: Russia’s aviation intensifies its bombardments.”
Morozov said the Sinai plane crash “should not be ridiculed.”
“In trying to be original, Charlie Hebdo have plunged everything into shock. Remember the tragedy which happened in January 2015 concerning the publisher. I think the journalists are provoking acts of violence.”
The second cartoon showed a skull and a burned-out plane on the ground, with the caption: “The dangers of low-cost Russia. I should have taken Air Cocaine.” The authors were referring to two French pilots who fled the Dominican Republic to escape arrest for allegedly trying to transport 680 kilograms of the drug.
Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote on her Facebook page: “Is anyone still Charlie?” in a reference to the catchphrase “JeSuisCharlie” used by many people to express sympathy with the victims of a brutal terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters in Paris in January after it published satirical cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.
Serbian film director Emir Kusturica told the Russian television station REN-TV that Charlie Hebdo’s latest publication was a “clear provocation.”
The Sinai tragedy occurred when a Metrojet Airbus 321, bound for St Petersburg with 224 people on board, crashed in the desert just 23 minutes after taking off from the resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh on October 31. The investigation is still ongoing, but a terrorist attack is among the possible causes of the crash.
Bomb theory plays into hands of snoopers
The British government’s assertion that the Russian Airbus 321 was downed by a bomb – based on the same intelligence techniques exposed by ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden – is likely to strengthen UK’s case for a new Snoopers Charter.
The UK government announced on November 4 that its intelligence agencies – GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 – have gathered ‘chatter’ which indicated that the A321 was blown out of the sky by an explosive device planted in the hold either through lack of tight security at the airport or by a rogue employee.
Security sources have told Sputnik that Britain’s intelligence services intercepted Islamic State (IS) messages between Syria and Egypt using the Five Eyes network of satellites as well as intercepts from mobile phones, Skype, email, text or internet chat rooms.
These are exactly the methods exposed by Edward Snowden that led to a global outcry over privacy and human rights and the UK Government’s prominent admission of the use of intelligence will play right into the hands of those pressing for a new Investigatory Powers Bill – known as the Snoopers’ Charter – coincidentally published this week.
The UK intelligence agencies undertook several sweeps of sigintel (signals intelligence) from the moment the aircraft was downed. Over the following days – based on ground intelligence and working with its Five Eyes partners, the US Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it ran back through intercepts between Syria and Egypt.
The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance operates a system of satellites which are used to intercept huge quantities of data that both the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s GCHQ analyze and convert into intelligence leads.
The British government this week unveiled its draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which critics say gives the intelligence agencies carte blanche to continue much of what Snowden revealed.
The fact that the UK authorities have made so much of its intelligence capability over the A321 crash will be seen by many as justification for the new legislation and the extension of snooping powers in the name of anti-terrorism and public security measures.
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