Isis has claimed responsibility for shooting down the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt today, despite authorities maintaining that a technical problem caused the disaster.
A faction of the terrorist group called Wilayat Sinai has mounted an Islamist insurgency in the region where Metrojet flight 9268 went down, launching a series of suicide bombings and attacks on the authorities.
A statement published by Isis’ propaganda agency said: “The fighters of the Islamic State were able to down a Russian plane over Sinai province that was carrying over 220 Russian crusaders. They were all killed, thanks be to God.”
It did not say how the aircraft was supposedly taken down but supporters were also sharing a video claiming to show it exploding and going down trailing smoke, which many viewers dismissed as fake.
Video: Unverified Isis propaganda footage claims to show downing of plane
Wilayat Sinai militants do have shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles called Manpads, the BBC reports, but security experts say that they would not have been able to strike the Airbus A321 as it flew at 31,000ft.
Russia’s transport minister, Maksim Sokolov, refuted Isis' claim and said it “can’t be considered accurate”, while Mohamed Samir, Egypt’s army spokesman, also dismissed it.
"They can put out whatever statements they want but there is no proof at this point that terrorists were responsible for this plane crash," he told The Guardian. "The army sees no authenticity to their claims or their video."
Egyptian security sources also said there was no indication that the plane had been shot down or blown up.
According to FlightRadar24, a Sweden-based flight tracking service, the aircraft was descending rapidly at about 6,000 feet per minute before it disappeared from radar.
“It was climbing quite normally when after 23 minutes when it passed 30,000ft it suddenly started to lose speed,” analyst Mikail Robertson told the BBC.
“It went down from 400 knots to 62 knots and then it suddenly started to drop very fast…after about 20 seconds we lost the signal from this aircraft.”
Egyptian investigators believe the plane fell vertically, with parts of it catching fire as it fell from the sky.
An official from the Aviation Incidents Committee said the pilot had radioed air traffic control to report technical difficulties and planned an emergency landing at the nearest airport before losing contact with air traffic controllers.
But Kogalymavia, the company that owns Metrojet, appeared to contradict the account by claiming the plane was in “full working order”.
Spokesperson Oxana Golovina told the Interfax news agency that the captain - Valery Nemov - had more than 12,000 hours of flying experience and that human error was not to blame.
“Our aircraft was in full working order, our crew was experienced, our pilot had a great deal of flying experience, so we don't know (what caused the crash)," she added.
The airline is providing free flights to Egypt for relatives of those killed in the crash and will and pay out an undecided amount of compensation. It has also launched an internal investigation.
Search teams found the wreckage in a remote mountainous region of North Sinai, around 30 miles from where the pilot was attempting to make an The first rescuers arriving at the site described a “tragic scene” with dead passengers still strapped in their seats.
At least 17 children were among passengers on the Airbus A321, with 138 women and 62 men, according to Egyptian officials who said that except for three Ukrainians, all the victims were Russian.
An initial examination of the crash site showed that a technical fault cause the crash, security sources in North Sinai said.
About 150 bodies, including burnt corpses, have been found in a three-mile radius around the wreckage and the identification process has started.
The plane’s black box recorders have been recovered and will be used to work out what happened in its final moments.
Russian and Egyptian officials say they will co-operate throughout the investigation.
Additional reporting by agencies
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies