Egypt’s president has dismissed as “propaganda” claims that ISIL fighters could have downed a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula, as U.S. defense officials reportedly suspect either a bomb or a fuel tank explosion may have been responsible for the crash.
A U.S. infrared satellite reportedly detected a heat flash at the time of the air incident on Saturday, with a senior Pentagon official telling NBC News that the intelligence community in Washington believes that a surface-to-air attack was not responsible.
“The speculation that this plane was brought down by a missile is off the table,” the official told NBC News. But the official suggested that either an explosive device on the plane itself, or a blast in the fuel tank could have been to blame.
The Airbus jet crashed on Saturday, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.
Investigators are examining all possible causes as part of an Egyptian-led probe into the disaster that also involves experts from Russia, Airbus, and Ireland, where the aircraft was registered. But a series of seemingly contradictory statements from officials in Russia and Egypt and remarks from an executive at the airline Metrojet suggesting that an “external impact” was to blame, have led to a muddled scene.
A second U.S. defense official also confirmed that the U.S. surveillance satellite detected a “flash or explosion” in the air over the peninsula at the time of the crash, NBC News reported.
According to the official, “the plane disintegrated at a very high altitude,” when, as the infrared satellite indicates, “there was an explosion of some kind.”
The reports come as Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi dismissed claims that a branch of ISIL downed the airline’s flight 9268.
“When there is propaganda that it crashed because of ISIS, this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt,” Sisi told BBC News, using an alternative acronym for ISIL.
“Believe me, the situation in Sinai — especially in this limited area — is under our full control,” he said.
Moscow has likewise dismissed the claim by Egypt's ISIL branch that it brought down the plane, which was bound for Saint Petersburg from Sharm el-Sheikh.
A top U.S. intelligence official also said Monday that it was “unlikely” ISIL was involved in the crash.
Analysis of the black box recorders, which could solve the mystery of what brought down the plane, is expected to begin on Tuesday according to Egyptian officials.
Russia's government commission overseeing the crash probe is also due to meet.
On Monday, Kogalymavia, which operates flights under the name Metrojet, said the crash of the plane was due to “external” factors.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, senior Kogalymavia executive Alexander Smirnov said that “no technical failures” could account for why the Airbus 321-200 would have broken up in mid-air.
“The only explanation is some kind of external action,” he said without elaborating, adding that the plane was in “excellent technical condition.”
Smirnov said the company had ruled out a technical fault or human error and that the plane had sustained “significant damage to its construction that did not allow it to continue the flight.”
“The crew totally lost control and for that reason there was not one attempt to get in contact and report on the accident situation on board,” Smirnov said. The plane was “flying out of control — that is, it wasn't flying, it was falling.”
Alexander Neradko, head of Russia's aviation authority, criticized the airline's comments as “premature and not based on any real facts.”
Al Jazeera and wire services