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Britain Prohibits Its Aircraft From Flying Over Sinai Peninsula

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Britain has prohibited its aircraft from flying to an airport in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula. That move came as British officials leaned heavily on the idea that a bomb might have brought down a Russian airliner that left from that airport a few days ago. NPR's Leila Fadel is following the story from London. Hi, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What evidence have the British put out?

FADEL: Well, they really haven't presented anything. They say they have some new information, that they reviewed all the information they had and came to this conclusion. And this morning, the Prime Minister David Cameron went even a little further.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID CAMERON: The reason we've acted before that is because of intelligence and information we had that gave us the concern that it was, more likely than not, it was a terrorist bomb. Now if that turns out to be the case, and even before we have that confirmed, of course, we'll look at all the implications because my job is to keep British people safe wherever they are in the world.

FADEL: Cameron said that to Sky News this morning, and he's the most high-level figure that has said this publicly.

INSKEEP: Now how big a deal is it? This airport is at a place called Sharm el-Sheikh. It's a resort. Were there a lot of British people or British planes going in and out?

FADEL: Well, there are some 20,000 British tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh. This is a very popular destination for European tourists, Germans, Russians, British people because it's pretty cheap, and you get to stay in luxury hotels. And so there's quite a few citizens, and Cameron did say that it will take some time to get everybody back home securely.

INSKEEP: On somebody else's planes, presumably, now how have Egyptian authorities reacted to this British announcement?

FADEL: With anger, they have issued statements saying, this is premature. They had previously dismissed claims by the self-declared Islamic State as propaganda. And so they're quite angry. They said that this was done unilaterally by Britain despite high-leveled communication between the two governments just hours before.

INSKEEP: Now you mention the Islamic State, and there was a branch that made this claim the other day. I'm remembering that it was dismissed at the time as not being very likely. What has brought at least some authorities around to the idea that it could possibly have been some terrorist group such as the Islamic State that could plausibly be involved?

FADEL: Well, originally, this was dismissed because experts say they don't have the capacity to strike a plane at cruising altitude from the outside. Now the concern is that a bomb was actually brought onto the plane prior to takeoff and then brought it down. So that's the concern now, which would be quite an escalation.

INSKEEP: And would you remind us what the investigators have actually found that they have said publicly?

FADEL: Well, right now they're saying they found no evidence so far of any type of explosion. They retrieved the black boxes from the crash site. They've been able to get information off the data recorder. But the voice recorder is damaged, and they haven't been able to get that information yet.

INSKEEP: And do they say when they'll know anything?

FADEL: That's not clear. They're asking people to hold off until the investigation is done. They're consulting with German, Irish, Russian experts as well as French experts on this investigation.

INSKEEP: Leila, thanks as always.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.