Russian Plane Crash: Terrorism Theories Rise, But Stll Uncertain

Terrorism theories got a boost yesterday, amid reports that US infrared satellite detected a heat flash over the Sinai at the time the Russian passenger jet went down, and statements by Kogalymavia Airlines (Metrojet in Russia) ruling out structural failure, technical defects and pilot error.

But there still are no reports of evidence of an explosive device in the debris, and it also doesn't appear anything external hit the plane. While that leaves fewer scenarios, such as a bomb on board, sabotage, or the tail falling off , it still doesn’t answer the question of whether ISIS had anything to do with the crash.[More...]

Alexander Smirnov, the deputy general director of Kogalymavia, which operates flights under the name Metrojet, said on Monday that the disaster was most likely caused by an external "impact". "The only plausible reason can be a mechanical impact on the plane," Smirnov told a press conference. "There is no combination of system failures that could cause the plane to be destroyed in the air," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

...[he] told journalists that the company has “completely excluded technical error and an error on the part of the pilot” as possible causes for the crash.

(Yes, Kogalymavia, Metrojet, Russia and Egypt all have dogs in this fight and are apt to spin things -- and Russian and Egyptian officials are taking different positions, but experts from multiple countries are working with them.)

Some media remain fixated on Wilayat Sinai's access to weapons and not having one that should shoot down a plane flying at such a high altitude. But the statement never said how it caused the plane to come down.

The Independent last night:

The group’s Egyptian affiliate, Wilayat Sinai, said it downed the plane in revenge for Russian air strikes in Syria but experts pointed out missile systems controlled by the militants only have a range of 15,000ft – half the plane's altitude.

There are other possibilities to focus on, rather than rehashing the capability of manpads. There must be a number of ground crew who had access to the plane before it took off. One could have planted the bomb.

Yves Trotignon, a former French intelligence agent, noted that ISIS's claim of responsibility was vague in detail. "The statement does not say they shot it down, but that they destroyed it," he told Le Parisien. "You could imagine explosives on board, or sabotage."

Terrorism experts said Isil had never claimed an attack it did not carry out. Mathieu Guidere, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Toulouse, said ISISl "is very well established in the Sinai, has infiltrated almost all organisations and infrastructure, so it is quite possible that a fighter sabotaged the plane at the airport before it took off or placed a device on board".

If so, I think in a few days we'll see a "mea culpa" video by the perpetrator, coupled with a pledge to ISIS, just as happened with past terror incidents abroad.

Another possibility: The bomb was placed on board and the flight tracked by ISIS online, which then activated the bomb by mobile phone when it was over Sinai. A few weeks ago, Russia busted an ISIS cell in Moscow planning a bomb attack on public transport. One of those arrested said the plan was to activate the bomb by mobile phone.

In March, an ISIS training manual surfaced on the internet, How To Survive In The West: A Mujahid ("jihadi fighter") Guide. "Instructions are also given for how to make nail bombs, cell-phone detonators, and "primitive car bombs," as well as how to transport them to targets."

On a related note, U.S. personnel have also been the target of ISIS attacks in Sinai. in September, 4 U.S. troops in Sinai were injured by an IED.

For months, the nearly 700 American soldiers deployed on the ground in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have weathered a crisis all but indistinguishable from their fellow troops in Iraq.

Living amid blast walls topped with razor wire, riding only in up-armored vehicles, the troops face a constant threat of attacks from extremist groups loyal to the so-called Islamic State.

After the IED hit the troops, the U.S. response was:

"The U.S. is concerned over deteriorating security conditions in an area of Northeastern Sinai where Egyptian security forces as well as civilian and military elements of the MFO, including the U.S. military forces stationed at the MFO North Camp, are exposed to potential risk," said Army Maj. Roger Cabiness, a Pentagon spokesman.

"The U.S. has been working closely with the government of Egypt and with the MFO to help address those risks," Cabiness said.

It wasn't ISIS' first attack on the compound:

On June 9, the North Camp was hit by rockets and mortars. The ISIS-linked group claimed it targeted the MFO base in part because its airport is used by "Crusader forces to maintain the security of Jews," according to a report from the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C.

That attack on an "international target" was a "major shift" for the ISIS branch in the Sinai, which had previously limited its attacks to the Egyptian military. That may "signal the approach of a broader strategy by Wilayat Sinai to deter U.S.-led coalition involvement in Iraq and Syria, or to divert international attention away from a main offensive in Iraq or Syria,” according to the ISW report.

More on that here.

Back to Wilayat Sinai and its weapons: Sinai-based ISIS militants have been using advanced weaponry, including Russian Kornet anti-tank missiles and SA-18 anti-aircraft weapons. Here are some shots of it taking Russian Kornets from Baji Air Base after a raid, and some photos showing members of Wilayat Sinai ISIS using them.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Anyway, simplest is best (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by smott on Tue Nov 03, 2015 at 01:52:22 PM EST
    Poor repair/maintain from prior tail strike until evidence of otherwise surfaces.

    Always choose incompetence over malice.

    As I've said in other threads, ... (none / 0) (#12)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 03:40:02 PM EST
    ... I think we should all wait until investigators at the crash site complete their initial assessments. I'm pretty sure at this point that the airliner wasn't brought down by SAM weaponry launched from the remote Sinai, as some first speculated.

    However, I think it's also equally premature to discount the possibility of an explosive device having been placed in the aircraft's cargo hold while it was laying over at Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport. The Russians certainly have their own reasons for not wanting that to be the case, given the general unpopularity at home of Mr. Putin's Syrian intervention, hence their heated denials to that effect.

    No doubt, we'll find out what happened soon enough.  


    CNN (none / 0) (#14)
    by FlJoe on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 04:07:16 PM EST
    is all but calling it a bomb. So far it's only the usual unnamed "cautious" sources but also  
    The British government announced Wednesday that it had "become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device."
    The arrow is starting to point towards a terrorist bomb,  trust neither CNN nor any intelligence agency but it smells legit to me.

    ... which confirms that such suspicions were in fact wll-founded, my inclination is to not pay too much heed to the opinion offered by Mr. Cameron's often hyperbolic government, which has proved itself prone in the past to ginning up public hysteria, whether intentional or not.

    Further, that CNN report to which you linked is really based on nothing more than free-flowing speculation offered by an anonymous U.S. intelligence official who's in Washington, and not on site in the Sinai:

    "'There is a definite feeling it was an explosive device planted in luggage or somewhere on the plane,' the official said, stressing that no formal conclusion had been reached by the U.S. intelligence community.

    "The assessment was reached, the official said, by looking back at intelligence reports that had been gathered before Saturday's plane crash and intelligence gathered since then. The United States did not have credible or verified intelligence of a specific threat before the crash. However, the official said, 'there had been additional activity in Sinai that had caught our attention.'"

    As I said, I've never discounted the possibility that a bomb might have downed the plane, but at the same time, I also noted in other threads the relevant issues related to aging airliners, such as metal fatigue. And has been pointed out in the media, the A-321 aircraft that crashed was 18 years old.

    Nothing is being ruled out here. But at the same time, we should be wary of rushing to judgment with premature claims which may later prove difficult to walk back or disabuse from the public consciousness.

    Let's please be patient, and let the international team of investigators at the crash site do their job. If it was indeed a bomb, I'm sure they'll note and make public the evidence to that effect soon enough.



    As for the heat flash (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by smott on Tue Nov 03, 2015 at 01:55:21 PM EST
    Yes, no doubt.
    25+ tons of fuel in the wings and center tank definitely can ignite when you've got a tumbling, disintegrating airplane with running engines .

    Big flash for sure, and a lot of burnt victims as we are seeing in post mortem.


    I'd defer to MT and her hubby but (none / 0) (#1)
    by smott on Tue Nov 03, 2015 at 01:51:00 PM EST
    If we're talking a bomb that could be detonated at will, I'd guess they would do their best to detonate over a populated area to do the most damage.

    If a bomb, of which have currently zero evidence, I'd bet it would be a simple barometric pressure trigger.

    In any case, no evidence of bomb. We have a relatively pristine and in-burned tail empennage, which given the early tail separation, would likely have been the placement.

    Ugh - edit (none / 0) (#4)
    by smott on Tue Nov 03, 2015 at 01:56:34 PM EST
    In burned should be UN-BURNED.

    My husband said this morning (none / 0) (#5)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 08:13:01 AM EST
    After hearing the recent news about the crazy climb they were in that if they saw a missile they could have chosen to do that ridiculous unsustainable climb, but more likely they lost the tail stabilizer. Losing a tail stabilizer will cause an airframe to slew crazily, usually sharply climbing or "slewing full down"nosediving. If the tail had simply come off, that would have caused an immediate nosedive. The climb was unsustainable though and very hard on the airframe.

    Birds can cause you to also make a sharp climb, but no birds at 30,000. Something called pilot startle response can cause pilots to immediately pull up too. He said it is almost an instinctive response, very hard to not do.


    When I was returning to Honolulu from Sacramento in Dec. 2004, our Hawaiian Airlines B-767 was on its takeoff roll down the runway on a very foggy early morning at Sacramento Int'l, when we struck a flock of Canada geese.

    There are several very loud thumps, and the pilot immediately aborted takeoff and braked hard. He announced lightheartedly over the intercom, "I'm sure you all heard that, too, so we're going to play it safe, return to the terminal and check it out."

    Good thing he did, because several of the geese had apparently struck the starboard wing, and the remains of one was still stuck in the front flaps. Boeing engineers were flown down from Seattle to inspect the aircraft, and they discovered that the collision had been so violent, it severely damaged the hydraulic lines to those front flaps, which meant that our aircraft was grounded indefinitely.

    To their credit, despite the flight having its full component of 264 passengers, Hawaiian Airlines personnel managed to get us all out that same day, albeit creatively. I was part of a group that was driven via motorcoach to San Francisco Int'l, where we were placed on board a Delta Air Lines flight later that evening. I had expected to arrive that day in HNL at 11:30 a.m.;, instead, I didn't get back until nearly midnight.

    I also read later that Sacramento Int'l is one of the country's leading airports for recorded bird strikes.



    Always better safe than sorry (none / 0) (#17)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 05:59:54 PM EST
    The take off isn't a certainty, the landing is.

    Panicking in flight and making the first bad decision usually leads to a short series of a couple more bad decisions, which can be fatal.


    MSNBC (none / 0) (#6)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 09:26:12 AM EST
    Is saying one of the black boxes say it was an engine explosion.   With no indication of surface to air.

    Which may have led to the (none / 0) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 10:22:26 AM EST
    Pilot startle response into the climb. Or perhaps they chose to gain altitude hoping to buy time to figure out a landing. Very sad though.

    If they lost the tail stabilizer and it sent them into that climb, an engine blowing up also could have been part of the structural failure of the aircraft as it began to come apart.

    We saw they are testing the fuel for likely impurities which could have caused the engine to explode as well.

    Sounds like if the fuel is found faulty, ISIS has laid the groundwork to attempt to claim they did it.


    ISIS is saying (none / 0) (#8)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 10:27:35 AM EST
    "We did it.   We don't need t tell you how we did it"

    Sounds like BS to me.   Doubt I'm alone in that.


    David Cameron flipping out (none / 0) (#9)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 01:38:40 PM EST
    I have to consider the flipping out source here.

    Talked to my sis-in-law in Germany yesterday. Conservatives in Europe hyper right now about refugees. Cameron like any Conservative these days knows the value of paranoia when it comes to maintaining power.


    British PM's office sez it may have been a bomb. (none / 0) (#10)
    by Mr Natural on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 02:01:49 PM EST
    (CNN)A passenger plane that crashed on the Sinai peninsula may have been brought down by a bomb, the British Prime Minister's office said Wednesday.

    "While the investigation is still ongoing we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed," the Prime Minister's office said. "But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device."

    Obviously, we are privy to nothing at this time.  

    Here's an early XMas present, a short paper containing a long list of explosive molecules. (But no mention of the troother's friend, nanothermite) It describes in terms of 2005 technology (Liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry) methods of explosive residue analysis.  Go forth and opine like internet experts, y'all.

    obv, I forgot to include the link. (none / 0) (#11)
    by Mr Natural on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 02:03:03 PM EST
    I read this morning (none / 0) (#13)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Nov 04, 2015 at 03:52:01 PM EST
    That the bodies tested negative for explosive residue. I watched the Cameron news conference, the only thing he mentioned that "scares" his Conservative self was that there was metal shrapnel in some of the bodies toward the rear of the plane. But crash experts have already stated that that happens when a plane comes apart in flight, high velocity shredding metal flies to the back of the aircraft.