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Russian officials believe Sinai plane brought down by bomb: U.S. sources

Russian communications intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies showed Russia believed the plane that crashed in Sinai, Egypt was brought down by a bomb, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Egypt and Russia have yet to formally announce the cause of the disaster

A woman cries after laying flowers at the memorial stone at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Moscow's Kremlin Wall. Mourners have been coming to St. Petersburg's airport and other places with flowers, pictures of the victims, stuffed animals and paper planes. (Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press)

Russian communications intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies showed Russia believed the plane that crashed in Sinai, Egypt, on Oct. 31 was brought down by a bomb, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The intercepts are among pieces of evidence leading U.S. officials to suspect that a device planted on Metrojet Flight 9268 exploded shortly after the Airbus A321 took off from the resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh, the sources said.

All 224 passengers and crew were killed when the plane crashed in the desert on the way to St. Petersburg, Russia. Egypt and Russia have yet to formally announce the cause of the disaster.

Both countries dismissed as premature U.S. and British assessments last week that a bomb likely was responsible.

Foreign airlines canceled a wave of flights to Egypt's Red Sea resorts following the crash. After initially signaling normal air traffic would proceed, Russia late last week canceled holiday flights into Sharm al-Sheikh.

Over the weekend, Russia mounted an airlift to repatriate thousands of Russian vacationers who had been stranded in Sinai after regular flights were canceled.

Within days of the crash, U.S. and British government sources were suggesting that intercepted communications chatter indicated that the plane had been brought down by a bomb.

The Islamic State's local affiliate, which calls itself the Sinai Province of the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the crash, and indicated it was in retaliation for Russia's military intervention in the Syrian civil war.

The group has been fighting the Egyptian army in the Sinai, most of which is a closed military zone, in a conflict that human rights groups say has claimed thousands of civilian lives.

A U.S. government source said on Monday that neither Russia nor Egypt has accepted an offer from the FBI to assist them in investigating the crash.

The FBI has offered "forensic assistance" and other unspecified services to both Russia and Egypt, FBI spokesman Joshua Campbell said.

The possibility that Islamic State operatives were able to infiltrate Sharm al-Sheikh Airport and plant a bomb aboard a commercial aircraft has heightened worries among U.S. officials about the danger posed by the group's Sinai branch. "It has elevated concern," said a U.S. official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the issue.

The U.S. official said that a leading theory is that an airport worker may have planted the suspected bomb aboard the Russian plane.

U.S. flag air carriers for years have avoided flying into or out of Sharm al-Sheikh airport because of longstanding worries about security at the facility, U.S. officials said. Because no U.S. airlines fly there, the officials said, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has not recently evaluated security at the airport. 

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