A militant group affiliated to Islamic State in Egypt claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula on Saturday, and Russia expressed doubts regarding the claim which was circulated on Twitter.
The aircraft carrying 224 people crashed on Saturday in a remote mountainous region in the Sinai Peninsula about 20 minutes after taking off from a Red Sea resort popular with Russian tourists, Egypt’s ministry of civil aviation said.
Egyptian security sources earlier on Saturday said early investigations suggested the plane crashed due to a technical fault.
The militant group’s claim of responsibility was also carried by the Aamaq website which acts as a semi official news agency for Islamic State.
“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,” the statement circulated on Twitter said.
Moscow, however, cast doubt on the claims by the Islamic State group.
“This information cannot be considered accurate,” transport minister Maksim Sokolov said in comments cited by Russian news agencies.
“We are in close contact with our Egyptian colleagues and aviation authorities in the country. At present, they have no information that would confirm such insinuations,” he added.
Several military experts contacted by AFP said it was unlikely that IS militants in Sinai would have missiles capable of shooting down a plane flying at 30,000 feet.
But they did not discount the possibility that a bomb may have been planted on the plane, or that it could have been hit by a rocket or missile as it lost height due to technical problems.
Egyptian military and security officials said there were no survivors from among the 217 passengers and seven crew members aboard the aircraft. Most of the bodies recovered so far from the site of the crash were burned, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
A civil aviation ministry statement said Egyptian military search and rescue teams found the wreckage of the passenger jet in the Hassana area some 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of the city of el-Arish, an area in northern Sinai where Egyptian security forces have for years battled a burgeoning Islamic militant insurgency which is now led by a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group.
It said the plane, believed to be an Airbus model, took off from Sharm el-Sheikh shortly before 6 a.m. for St. Petersburg in Russia and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes after takeoff.
The Egyptian officials said the aircraft was cruising at 36,000 feet (about 11,000 meters) when contact with air traffic controllers was lost.
The Russian embassy in Egypt said in a statement on its Facebook page that all passengers on the flight died when the plane crashed in the Sinai peninsula.
(With Reuters, AP and AFP inputs)