Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt after a recommendation by his chief of intelligence for a halt until the cause of the crash of a passenger jet in the Sinai Peninsula is determined.
Friday’s suspension came after several days of statements by British and American officials that it was possible a bomb on board had brought down the Russian carrier, Metrojet’s Airbus A321-200, which crashed 23 minutes after takeoff from the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
There are around 45,000 Russian tourists in Egypt.
The crash on Saturday killed all 224 people on board. Russian and Egyptian officials had bristled at the statements, saying it was too soon to determine the cause.
The suspension, covering all of Egypt, is even more sweeping than that imposed by Britain, which had halted flights to Sharm el-Sheikh only.
“I think it will be reasonable to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt until we determine the real reasons of what happened,” Intelligence Chief Alexander Bortnikov said in televised comments. “It concerns tourist flights most of all.”
Russia’s emergency situations minister, Vladimir Puchkov, said wreckage from the plane has been brought to Moscow for tests.
“These are necessary samples from all parts where traces of explosives could be. All of these samples have been delivered to Moscow, and we are studying them,” Puchkov said.
The US Department of Homeland Security announced new security measures on Friday, including tighter screening of items before they are brought on board aircraft, for flights to the US from some foreign airports in the Middle East region.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the new measures were a “prudent response” to boost security procedures already in place and will affect fewer than 10 airports.
All the airports being asked to tighten screening of US-bound flights are in the Middle East, a US official familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency.
Britain’s transport ministry, meanwhile, says it is working with Egypt to ensure flights bring home British tourists stranded in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The announcement on Friday came as one airline said it had been refused permission to fly some of its planes there.
Britain had on Wednesday suspended all flights to and from the resort, but flights were allowed to resume Friday with special security measures – such as passengers being allowed to carry only hand luggage.
“We are urgently working with the Egyptian authorities to try to ensure planned flights leave Sharm today,” a spokesman for Britain’s Department for Transport said.
In a setback for tourism in Egypt, France and Belgium have advised their citizens against travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh, from where the Airbus A321 airliner took off before crashing in the Sinai desert.
Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands have suspended flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
Earlier, British Prime Minister David Cameron maintained that the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt was “more likely than not” caused by a bomb, despite Russian and Egyptian leaders’ calls for all sides to await the results of an official investigation.
US President Barack Obama also said he believes there is a “possibility” a bomb brought down the plane.
“I think there is a possibility that there was a bomb on board, and we’re taking that very seriously,” Obama said in a radio interview.
Following talks on Thursday in London with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Cameron defended his decision to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheikh and make public his belief, based on intelligence reports, that a bomb was the likely cause of last week’s crash.