Thursday, May 19, 2016
EgyptAir crash comes amid high terror alerts in both France and Egypt
Speculation that terrorism caused the crash of the EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo grew Thursday at a time when both France and Egypt were on high alert because of recent terrorist attacks.
Last Nov. 13, gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people and wounded hundreds in coordinated attacks on a concert hall, a soccer stadium and restaurants and cafes in Paris. The month before, 224 people were killed when a plane bound for Moscow was brought down over Egypt's Sinai peninsula. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for both incidents.
Alain Vidalies, France's transport minister, told reporters Thursday that the presence of three air marshals on EgyptAir Flight MS804 was the "usual practice." But Doug Maclean, a Britain-based aviation expert with a background in air traffic control, said that it would be unusual for there to be more than one air marshal aboard a plane unless authorities were aware of specific security alerts.
"For each flight a risk assessment is made for these types of things," he said.
Maclean said French security authorities likely determined that a flight to the Middle East on an Egyptian airline from Paris warranted the extra security given recent terrorist attacks in both places. He said connections between the perpetrators of the Paris attacks and bomber in Brussels in March who killed 32 people would have given authorities in both countries further cause to take heightened security measures.
Authorities were still searching for debris from the plane in the Mediterranean Sea and investigators are only beginning to try to determine what caused the crash. Yet, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as Russian and Egyptian authorities already speculated Thursday that the plane was brought down by terrorists.
The threat from terrorism is high in Egypt and while most attacks have targeted the government and its security forces, foreigners have also been attacked.
Britain's foreign office says the most active terrorist group in Egypt is Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, an insurgent group behind a number of deadly attacks in Cairo and the remote Sinai region. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014.
Thursday's incident came as France’s parliament approved a two-month extension of the state of emergency that was declared after the deadly attacks in Paris.
The measure expands police powers to put people under house arrest and allows authorities to forbid the movement of people and vehicles at specific times and places. It is aimed at covering a June 10-July 10 European Championship soccer tournament in France and the July 2-24 Tour de France.
The crash also follows a recent warning from Patrick Calvar, head of French intelligence agency the General Directorate for Internal Security.
"We know that (the Islamic State) is planning new attacks — using fighters in the area, taking routes which facilitate access to our territory — and that France is clearly targeted," Calvar told a parliamentary defense committee hearing on May 10. French news media reported his comments Thursday.
"We risk being confronted with a new form of attack: A terrorist campaign characterized by leaving explosive devices in places where big crowds gather, multiplying this type of action to create a climate of panic," he said. Calvar said France was more at threat from Islamic State attacks than any other country in Europe.