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U.S. officials think ISIS planted bomb on Russian plane

The Russian jetliner that crashed in Egypt’s desert was likely downed by a bomb ISIS terrorists smuggled aboard, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Intercepted communications reveal that Islamic State thugs sneaked the explosive device onto Metrojet Flight 9268 before it broke apart above the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday en route to St. Petersburg, Russia — killing all 224 people aboard.

The preliminary finding was a chilling echo of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 by Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

In online messages that surfaced Wednesday, ISIS militants continued to claim responsibility for the Metrojet downing and said it was revenge for recent Russian air strikes against ISIS in Syria.

“We downed it, so die in your rage,” one ISIS audio message posted on Twitter said.

“We, with God’s grace, are the ones who brought it down, and we are not obliged to disclose the mechanism of its demise,” the speaker said in the widely reported posting that could not be independently authenticated.

AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS SUNDAY, NOV.1, 2015 HANDOUT IMAGE TO BE USED SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON THE FACTS OR EVENTS DEPICTED IN THIS IMAGEMaxim Grigoriev/AP

Egyptian Military members approach a plane’s tail at the wreckage of a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday.

RUSSIAN PLANE CRASHES IN EGYPT, KILLING ALL 224 PEOPLE ON BOARD — INCLUDING 25 CHILDREN

Russian officials did not comment on the report.

The Airbus A321 was carrying Russian vacationers back to Russia’s second-largest city when it mysteriously broke apart in midair 23 minutes after takeoff from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport.

U.S. satellite imagery detected heat around the jet just before it went down, two officials told The Associated Press.

The infrared activity was inconclusive, however, and could indicate a bomb blast or an engine or fuel tank exploding because of a malfunction.

Metrojet officials have insisted the tragedy must be linked to an “external impact,” not a technical malfunction or pilot error.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria — including ISIS — in late September.

The bloodthirsty terror group has called for war against both Russia and the United States in response to military strikes in the region.

FOUR OTHER INFAMOUS DISASTERS AS INVESTIGATORS LOOK AT SINAI CRASH

Earlier in the day, British officials grounded flights between the Sharm el-Sheikh airport and Britain, citing concerns that a bomb was to blame for the downed Airbus.

Footage shows burning debris and scattered bodies at the Sinai crash site of Metrojet Flight 9268.LIFE News

Footage shows burning debris and scattered bodies at the Sinai crash site of Metrojet Flight 9268.

“While the investigation is still ongoing, we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed. 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,” a statement from British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said.

A team of British aviation experts traveled to the popular Egyptian Red Sea resort town for a security assessment at the airport, while extra consular staff was sent to assist worried tourists, the prime minister’s office said.

Cameron called a cabinet-level review of the situation late Wednesday as the Irish Aviation Authority also directed airlines to halt operations to and from Sharm el-Sheikh and in the Sinai Peninsula air space “until further notice.”

Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. had no need to take similar steps because no American carriers serve the Sinai Peninsula with regularly scheduled flights.

“The situation is just different,” Earnest said. “British authorities are taking the steps they believe are appropriate to safeguard the British traveling public. The United States has already taken steps that we believe are consistent with protecting American travelers overseas.”

Portraits of two plane crash victims, Natalia Soldatulina and Alexandra Pilip, are placed near flowers and toys Wednesday at an entrance of Pulkovo airport outside St. Petersburg, Russia.Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Portraits of two plane crash victims, Natalia Soldatulina and Alexandra Pilip, are placed near flowers and toys Wednesday at an entrance of Pulkovo airport outside St. Petersburg, Russia.

RUSSIAN PLANE WAS NOT STRUCK FROM OUTSIDE BEFORE DEADLY CRASH IN EGYPT: INVESTIGATOR; OFFICIALS PROBE POSSIBLE BOMB ON BOARD

He said U.S. officials have been “in touch” with Egyptian authorities, but offered no details, saying he didn’t want to“get ahead of the ongoing investigation.”

Britain’s strong public reaction ruffled Egyptian officials, with one presidential spokesman saying he wished the European power had waited for the results of the ongoing investigation.

With tensions mounting, the head of the Sharm el-Sheikh airport was replaced late Wednesday — a move billed as coincidental by the chairman of the country’s civilian airports.

Meanwhile, the cockpit voice recorder — the second so-called black box — was partially damaged, so the process of extracting data will take longer than first anticipated, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said.

RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS-/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (r.) and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (l.) meet with the EU representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini (c.), at the presidential palace Tuesday in Cairo.

Egyptian security at the airport has been focusing on who gained entry in the terminal’s departure hall or had access to the aircraft through catering or cleaning services before takeoff, NBC News reported.

“This airport has lax security. It is known for that,” an unidentified U.S. official told CNN. “But there is intelligence suggesting an assist from someone at the airport.”

Officials are reviewing security video.

Russian and Egyptian rescue workers are still combing the desert after expanding their search area to 15 square miles.

As grieving families tried to piece together what happened, Russian state television reported the doomed plane’s tail was found 3 miles away from the rest of the wreckage. One body was confirmed released to a Russian family for burial, while 33 bodies had been positively identified by relatives.

With News Wire Services  

ndillon@nydailynews.com

Tags:
plane crashes ,
egypt ,
terrorism ,
isis

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Nation / World – NY Daily News

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