Stranded British tourists to start leave Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh
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Stranded British tourists to start leave Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh

After Cameron says ‘more likely than not’ bomb brought down Russian jet, airlines work overtime to shuttle visitors home

Tourists wait in line at the security gate before the check-in counter at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, south Sinai, Egypt, November 6, 2015. (AP/Thomas Hartwell)
Tourists wait in line at the security gate before the check-in counter at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, south Sinai, Egypt, November 6, 2015. (AP/Thomas Hartwell)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Egyptian police carried out detailed security checks on Friday at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, the resort from where the doomed Russian plane took off last weekend, after UK officials confirmed that flights will start bringing stranded British tourists home from the Sinai Peninsula.

The measures follow the crash last Saturday of Metrojet’s Airbus A321-200 that killed all 224 people on board. The plane crashed 23 minutes after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg, with mostly Russian tourists aboard.

Russia and Egypt have dismissed Western suggestions that a bomb may have caused the crash, saying the speculation was a rush to judgment and insisting the investigation must run its course. The United States and British leaders have stopped short of a categorical assignment of blame in the crash, but Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday it was “more likely than not” that the cause was a bomb.

The crash prompted companies to ground flights from and to the Red Sea resort, stranding thousands of tourists this week.

EasyJet said it will run nine flights Friday from the Red Sea resort to London and one to Milan, while Monarch will have two scheduled flights and three additional flights. Neither carrier is operating passenger flights from the UK to Sharm el-Sheikh.

On Friday morning, dozens of buses waited outside the Sharm el-Sheikh airport, the line stretching up to a kilometer (half mile) as police inspected each vehicle, ferrying mostly Russian and British tourists to the airport.

Britain has said that additional security measures would be in place, including only allowing passengers to carry hand baggage, while checked luggage will be transported separately. The carry-on measure applies only to those departing from Sharm el-Sheikh, British officials said.

Inside the crowded airport, British tourists said Friday they were just anxious to get home.

“We were in the first flights that were cancelled Wednesday night, we were already queuing to board,” said Amy Johnson, a 27-year-old British administrative assistant hoping to catch one of Friday’s EasyJet flights out of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Standing in a crush of hundreds waiting to pass through security, Johnson said she didn’t feel that British authorities have adequately supported the stranded tourists. “We’re being left to deal with this ourselves.”

Another tourist, Terrance Mathurian, a British builder traveling with his family, said they were told by hotel staff in the morning to head to the airport, following conflicting information. Looking at the long security line, he said that he “can understand why they have this situation here but personally, we’ve had no problems at all.”

In an unusual decision, Dutch carrier KLM said it has instructed its passengers leaving from the Egyptian capital of Cairo that they can only take hand luggage on the plane departing Friday. A statement on KLM’s website says the measure is “based on national and international information and out of precaution.”

There were no further details and it was unclear why such measures would be imposed at the Cairo airport. KLM, which has no direct flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, did not elaborate on what their measure is based and nothing has been revealed so far from the ongoing investigation.

Security officials at the Cairo airport told The Associated Press that flight KL554 left for Amsterdam on Friday morning with only 115 passengers out of the 247 who were booked. The rest refused to leave without taking their check-in bags, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama said the US was taking “very seriously” the possibility that a bomb brought down the plane.

The Islamic State group, which has not generally pursued “spectacular” attacks outside its base in Syria, has claimed responsibility for bringing down the plane, but Russian and Egyptian officials say the claim was not credible. Russia is conducting an air war in Syria against Islamic State militants who have promised retaliation.

Earlier this week, two US officials told AP that images from US satellites detected heat around the jet just before it went down. The infrared activity could mean several things, including a bomb blast or an engine exploding because of a mechanical breakdown.

Egypt — which stands to lose millions of dollars from its vital tourism industry — maintains there is nothing wrong with the airport facility at Sharm el-Sheikh, which each year welcomes thousands of vacationers to the resort beside the crystal-clear Red Sea.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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