The Islamic State terror group in Egypt claimed responsibility for bringing down a Russian passenger plane on Saturday carrying 224 people. Russian authorities, however, rejected the claim.
IS in Egypt, Wilayat Sinaa (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) published the claim of responsibility hours after the plane, traveling from from the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh back to St. Petersburg, crashed in the Sinai Peninsula with 217 passengers and 7 crew members on board.
“The soldiers of the caliphate succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane in Sinai,” said the statement in Arabic circulated on social media. “More than 220 Crusaders were on board. All were killed, praise God.”
“Know, oh Russians and those allied with you, that you have no place in the land of Muslims…and the dozens of victims that you kill ever y day with your raids in the land of Sham [Syria] will be the cause of all your future misery. And know, also that we will kill you just like you kill us,” a statement in French said.
IS later issued video footage purportedly showing the plane being hit; the clip was subsequently removed from YouTube.
Moscow rejected the claims of responsibility.
“This information cannot be considered accurate,” Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov said in comments cited by Russian news agencies. “We are in close contact with our Egyptian colleagues and aviation authorities in the country. At present, they have no information that would confirm such insinuations,” he added.
Earlier, the Russian airline operating the plane, Kogalymavia, also known as Metrojet, said there were “no grounds” to blame human error, intimating that the incident may not have been an accident. Still, security sources in Sinai told Reuters that, according to an initial investigation, the plane crashed due to technical fault.
An Egyptian aviation official says the pilot of Metrojet Flight 7K9268 had reported technical difficulties and planned an emergency landing at the nearest airport before losing contact with Egyptian air traffic controllers and crashing. Ayman al-Muqadem, a member of the Aviation Incidents Committee, said the pilot had reported his intention to attempt to land at the nearest airport.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian emergency officials to fly immediately to the wreckage of the plane.
Meanwhile, Russian authorities raided the offices of Kogalymavia in Moscow, according to Reuters, and seized documents. The reason was not immediately clear.
A statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Civil Aviation said military search and rescue teams found the wreckage of the passenger jet in the Hassana area south of the city of Al-Arish, an area in northern Sinai where Egyptian security forces are fighting a burgeoning Islamic militant insurgency led by the local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group.
The group is responsible for numerous attacks against Egyptian security services in the Sinai over the past two years.
Russia recently began its own aerial campaign against Syrian rebel groups, including IS, in war-torn Syria, in an effort to bolster its ally, Bashar Assad.
Militants in northern Sinai have not previously shot down commercial airliners or fighter-jets. They are said to have obtained Russian shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles, which could be used against low-flying aircraft or helicopters. In January of last year, they claimed to have down an Egyptian military helicopter; Egypt confirmed a helicopter crash at the time.