Conflicting claims still surround Russian airliner crash

15-10-31 IS Wilayat Sinai claims downing Russian jet

Just hours after a Russian airliner crashed in the Sinai on October 31, killing more than 220 passengers and crew on board, the Islamic State’s Wilayat Sinai (Sinai “province”) issued a statement online claiming responsibility. Days later, it is uncertain whether the claim is bluster, or if there is something more to it. Investigations into airplane crashes normally require extensive forensic work, which has not yet been finished in this case.

In the meantime, the Islamic State continues to say its jihadists were responsible. Earlier today, the group released an audio message saying it doesn’t have to prove how it downed the airliner, but its jihadists were the culprits. The group also said it would release evidence to support its claim at some point in the future. This is at least the third time the jihadists have officially said they destroyed the aircraft.

In its latest message, the Islamic State’s Sinai “province” ties its alleged attack on the airliner to the anniversary of its bayat (oath of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-declared “caliph.” In November 2014, Baghdadi accepted the fealty of several jihadist groups around the world, including Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM) in the Sinai. ABM was then rebranded as a “province” of the Islamic State. It is this same organization that says it brought down the airliner.

Egyptian and Russian officials quickly rejected the Islamic State’s claim out-of-hand. And Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al Sisi insists the Islamic State’s statements are merely “propaganda.” Russian officials now say it is too early to tell what caused the crash.

America’s top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said earlier this week that there is not yet any evidence of terrorist involvement. “It’s unlikely but I wouldn’t rule it out,” Clapper told an audience at the Defense One Summit, according to an account of his appearance. “We don’t have any direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet. ISIL had tweeted claims.” ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is the acronym used by the US government for the Islamic State.

Clapper was referring to the message seen at the top of this article, which was tweeted within hours of the crash.

“Soldiers of the Caliphate were able to down a Russian airplane over Sinai province,” the statement reads, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The Islamic State branch continued by threatening the Russians, saying they are not safe “in the lands of Muslims nor in their air.” And the “killing [of] dozens everyday” in Syria “by the bombardment of your aircraft” will lead to additional Russian deaths, the jihadists’ warned. The Islamic State’s statement does not say how it allegedly blew up the plane, only that it was “able to down” it.

As SITE first reported, the Islamic State’s al Bayan radio released an audio message containing the same message hours later.

Egyptian prime minister Sharif Ismail has said the claim “cannot be considered accurate.” Ismail added, “Experts have affirmed that technically planes at this altitude cannot be shot down, and the black box will be the one that will reveal the reasons for the crash.”

The plane is thought to have been flying at an altitude outside the range of shoulder-fired missiles, which the Islamic State is known to possess. Other anti-aircraft missiles have a longer range, but the Islamic State is not known to have such weapons.

However, it is at least possible, although hardly proven, that a bomb was responsible. The airline company that operated the jet says the only reasonable explanation is “an external influence.”

US officials, relying on satellite imagery, have ruled out the possibility of a missile striking the plane, according to NBC News. This same imagery reportedly shows “a heat flash at the same time and in the same vicinity over the Sinai where the Russian passenger plane crashed.” And US “intelligence analysts believe it could have been some kind of explosion on the aircraft itself, either a fuel tank or a bomb.”

While the world awaits a definitive explanation, the Islamic State’s Sinai “province” continues to claim the airliner was brought down as part of its anti-Russian jihad.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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6 Comments

  • Arjuna says:

    Clapper and his sharing means caring SIGINT set let a low-level contractor steal all our stuff, misused Stuxnet and then let the Chinese steal all the F-22, F-35 and OPM data. Can’t believe he still has a job and is our highest authority on terrorist “intelligence”. This looks likely TO BE an ISIS bomb, Mr. DNI. Now go help the Russians find out who did it. Start with the throwers and the caterers..

    • Arjuna says:

      Smoking gun: The latest on Saturday’s crash of a Russian plane in Egypt that killed 224 people. All times local.

      12:45 a.m.

      A U.S. official briefed on the matter says U.S. intelligence agencies have assembled preliminary evidence that a bomb brought down the Russian airliner.

      The official says intercepted communications played a role in the tentative conclusion that the Islamic State group’s Sinai affiliate planted an explosive device on the plane.

  • Ken North says:

    Assuming for discussion purposes that this was a terrorist event, I share Arjuna’s assessment that this was a ‘Lockerbie’ type incident. Straight-forward planning and execution from a very soft airport. It is still worth noting, however, that an impressive range of IS and/or AQ groups active in the Sinai could have launched Libyan-sourced BUK type SA variants from their redoubts in the al Halal mountain range. This latter scenario is somewhat reminiscent of the July, 2014 crash of Air Algerie Flight 5017, near Gao, Mali.
    From a strategic perspective, this episode is persuasively indicative of a sophisticated flanking maneuver, striking the Russians where they are vulnerable, well beyond the range of their fortified Syrian bases. Hezbollah accomplished the same objective with its 1992 and 1994 attacks against Israel in Buenos Aires. Would not be the first time AQ tapped Hezbollah’s playbook.
    As the noted theorist and USMC combat commander LTC (ret.) H. John Poole has extensively demonstrated, jihadists of all persuasions are deeply imbued with Sun Tzu’s principles of warfare. The takeaway from this is that jihadist attacks on U.S. interests could be readily undertaken in either Mexico or the Caribbean where Americans congregate at easily accessible beach resorts. Targeting aircraft, airports [e.g. 1972 Lod/Tel Aviv], hotels, beaches. Mumbai on steroids.

  • James says:

    If ISIS was behind this, I wouldn’t blame Putin one bit if he were to launch massive retaliation strikes for it. Beginning with Raqqa, I hope he carpet bombs them with napalm (or some other incendiary device). There is no doubt that he has the force structure at his disposal to turn that whole area into a huge heap of dust and ashes.

    He needs to also go gung-ho after those filthy mouthpieces of these thugs at Twitter, Inc. I think it is downright criminal, for Twitter, Inc. to allow itself to be used (and abused) by these kind of thugs. If they can’t currently be held criminally responsible (pending future legislative acts if need be), they should at least be held financially liable to the innocent victims of these kind of attacks. This is nothing but gross negligence on Twitter’s part at the very least.

    I hope he puts the KGB on you big time, Twitter.

  • irebukeu says:

    The Islamic state claimed to have brought the plane down.
    That’s a pretty good indication right there that they actually did bring the plane down.
    I am not aware of IS making claims, taking credit for attacks they did not make. This would destroy their credibility and “jihadi credentials” especially if another group turns out to have made the attack, dismisses islamic state and produces a video as proof of their own claims.
    For a ‘province’ to make a claim like that, I would assume, given the tight controls that are placed on all individuals within the islamic state and their franchises, the governing body would have to approve.
    Egypt said right away that it wasn’t terrorism which is also a pretty good indication to me (I’m way past the point of being skeptical) that it, in fact WAS terrorism.
    Now they say there are indications of a bomb on board so it indeed looks like they took it down. This of course will provoke an obvious Russian reaction and a shift of focus to the islamic state from other groups or perhaps to all jihadist groups.. For myself, this is good news as the violence on IS will increase tenfold without costing US taxpayers another nickel or an American his or her life.
    In an earlier comment to an earlier article I said that I hoped Putin would “go big”. It looks now as if he has no other option (or else what would the world think?).
    More intervention by Russia means less intervention by the United States and the fewer deaths of American soldiers in places they shouldn’t be to begin with.
    So c’mon Putin, lets get the Spetsnaz into the game, put the Ukraine on simmer and get 8,000 or so troops down to Syria right quick, lickety split.

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