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Terrorist Groups Remain Unusually Quiet Following EgyptAir Crash

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Egyptian authorities say terrorism is more likely than a mechanical malfunction to have brought down that Egypt Air flight. Rukmini Callimachi says this does not look like previous terrorist attacks that have brought down airplanes. She covers terrorism for The New York Times and joins us now. Welcome.

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: Ari, thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Talk about other recent plane crashes and what we saw in the immediate aftermath with terrorist organizations taking credit.

CALLIMACHI: Well, in terms of ISIS, they tend to take credit very quickly, usually within a couple hours, if not on the outer edge of that days. The Metrojet flight, which went down October 31 of last year. It went down in the morning. And ISIS claimed responsibility for it the same day, so it was a matter of hours. What we're seeing here today is almost the opposite of what happened last year. Last year, officials very quickly came out and said, this is not terrorism and denied that hypothesis for quite some time, even as ISIS came out and claimed it. And eventually, they came around and stated that the Islamic State was responsible. This time around, we have officials essentially pointing the finger at ISIS, or at least to terrorism, and yet the terror group has not claimed it.

SHAPIRO: And so what have you seen on ISIS-supported Twitter feeds, blogs, other publications since this Egyptian plane disappeared?

CALLIMACHI: It's really puzzling, Ari. I mean, there's been nothing. I mean, complete radio silence on the accounts that we consider to be official ISIS outlets. As far as the ISIS sympathizers, there were a couple of little posts in the hours after the plane went missing that seemed to be somewhat celebratory, but nothing on the order of what we've seen in other attacks. And so what's really striking is the silence here.

SHAPIRO: And so what possibilities does that leave?

CALLIMACHI: Look, I've been watching this group for some time. And what's counterintuitive about is people somehow have this perception that ISIS claims everything or that they wrongly claim attacks, and that's just not borne out. There's been very few incidences where they've claimed attacks that officials don't believe they did. And in general, when they do something, they claim it, and they claim it accurately.

SHAPIRO: So one possibility, obviously, is that this was not terrorism at all, but it was, in fact, mechanical failure.

CALLIMACHI: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Another possibility - how realistic do you think it is that perhaps this was a group other than ISIS?

CALLIMACHI: I mean, the only - you know, really, the only other group that is out there that we believe has the capability to do this is al-Qaeda. Now, could it be al-Qaeda? I mean, al-Qaeda has been aiming to take down flights and successfully did, obviously, on 9/11. But since 9/11, their success rate has been almost nil. You know, think of the underwear bomber, the shoe bomber. So have they suddenly now, at a point in time when al-Qaeda is considered to be very much on its back foot - have they suddenly now figured out how to carry out something as catastrophic as what happened to Egypt Air?

SHAPIRO: And so, in the next few days, investigators are pursuing many different threads. You, I imagine, are looking online at all of these accounts associated with these groups. What specifically are you going to be trying to find?

CALLIMACHI: You know, I'm obsessively looking at - I mean, ISIS now has a pretty standardized structure for claiming attacks. They usually go through either Al-Bayan Radio - their radio station - or they go through Amak, which is their semi-official news agency. So all I can do at this point is just watch these channels and see if anything is said. And then, if it's not claimed, I think we're going to end up in a very puzzling and confusing situation, with officials, you know, struggling to make sense of it. And until the group itself claims it, it's actually quite hard to know with some certainty whether - whether they were behind it or not.

SHAPIRO: Rukmini Callimachi covers terrorism for The New York Times and joined us via Skype. Thank you so much.

CALLIMACHI: Thank you. Thank you, Ari. Take care. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.