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World

U.K. Says Russian Crash Over Sinai 'More Than Likely' Caused By Bomb

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, says that Saturday's crash of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt was more than likely caused by a bomb. Yesterday, the U.K. suspended tourist flights to the resort town of Sharm el Sheikh. Britain has not disclosed the intelligence that led to its decision, and that has caused anger in both Egypt and Russia. In a moment, we'll have a reaction from Moscow. But first, here's NPR's Leila Fadel in London.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The timing could not have been worse. This crisis broke just as Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is visiting London. It made his joint press conference at Downing Street today with Prime Minister Cameron into an awkward affair.

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ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Sisi thanked Cameron for his hospitality and said Egypt and Britain had been working closely for months to ensure security in Sharm el-Sheikh Airport. Cameron agreed but then reiterated the U.K.'s concern about Saturday's crash of a Russian airline filled with tourists in Egypt.

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DAVID CAMERON: I cannot be sure, my experts cannot be sure that it was a terrorist bomb that brought down that Russian plane. But if the intelligence is and the judgment is that that is a more-likely-than-not outcome, then I think it's right to act in the way that I did.

FADEL: The British government is the only one to publicly say the crash on Saturday was likely caused by a bomb. Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House says Cameron would not have risked alienating the Egyptian government without good cause.

JANE KINNINMONT: They wouldn't have wanted to mar this state visit but have had to respond to events despite some suggestions, including from Egypt's tourism minister, that they're overreacting.

FADEL: The British government isn't revealing what the intelligence is that prompted the decision to suspend the flights, and the U.S. says it's made no concrete conclusion. Adam Schiff, the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC there are indications that it may have been a bomb, but it could also have been an accident.

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ADAM SCHIFF: I can only tell you our perspective here in the United States, which is, we're not ready to confirm anything. There is evidence that would support either conclusion.

FADEL: Cameron's statement came after leaks from U.S. officials that a satellite had detected a burst of heat just before the plane fell from the sky. Another U.S. official told the AP they'd intercepted suspicious chatter among an Egyptian group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State. Britain is being extra cautious because of its recent experiences of militant attacks, says Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics. In June, a gunman opened fire at a tourist resort in Tunisia and killed 37 people, 30 of them British vacationers.

FAWAZ GERGES: The British government have been there before. They have been burned before. And they have taken this particular precaution to ensure - to secure the safety of their 20,000 tourists or so in the Egyptian's Sharm el-Sheikh.

FADEL: Gerges says Britain is out in front of the U.S. on this issue because of the number of its vacationers at the resort, which is also a popular destination for Russians and Germans. The prime minister's office says flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the U.K. will resume tomorrow to return stranded Britons home. Outbound flights are still suspended. Leila Fadel, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.