Maxim Grigoriev / Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations / AP

Investigators '90 percent sure' Russian jet was downed by a bomb

The investigation into the crash is also focusing on security at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport

Investigators of the Russian plane crash in Egypt are "90 percent sure" the noise heard in the final second of a cockpit recording was an explosion caused by a bomb, a member of the investigation team told Reuters on Sunday.

The Airbus A321 crashed 23 minutes after taking off from the Sharm el-Sheikh tourist resort eight days ago, killing all 224 passengers and crew. 

"The indications and analysis so far of the sound on the black box indicate it was a bomb," said the Egyptian investigation team member, who asked not to be named due to sensitivities. "We are 90 percent sure it was a bomb."

The comments follow an announcement by lead investigator Ayman el-Muqadem on Saturday the plane appeared to have broken up in midair while it was being flown on auto-pilot and that a noise had been heard in the last second of the cockpit recording.

"All scenarios are being considered,” el-Muqadem said Saturday. “It could be lithium batteries in the luggage of one of the passengers, it could be an explosion in the fuel tank."

Led by el-Muqadem, the investigation committee includes members from Russia, France, Germany and Ireland, where the plane was registered.

The investigation is also looking into airport security in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the flight on Oct. 31 took off for St. Petersburg, Russia, before crashing and killing all 224 on board.

Sharm el-Sheikh airport security officials told The Associated Press that there have long had gaps in security, including a key baggage scanning device that often is not functioning and lax searches at an entry gate for food and fuel for the planes.

One of the officials, involved in security for planes, also pointed to bribe-taking by poorly paid policemen monitoring X-ray machines. "I can't tell you how many times I have caught a bag full of drugs or weapons that they have let through for 10 euros or whatever," he said.

A spokesman for Egypt's Aviation Ministry, Mohamed Rahma, dismissed the accounts of inadequate security, saying, "Sharm el-Sheikh is one of the safest airports in the world," without elaborating.

Investigators found debris scattered across a 13-kilometer stretch of desert, but some pieces of wreckage were still missing, el-Muqadem said.

The crash dealt another blow to Egypt's battered tourism sector, which is yet to fully recover from years of political turmoil. Russians comprise nearly a third of all tourists who visited Egypt in the past year.

Wire services

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