It prompted the Government to immediately ground flights to the resort, and they could be suspended for weeks – leaving 130,000 Britons who have booked winter sun trips in limbo. British holidaymakers stranded in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh face chaos after being told yesterday they can board a plane home only if they leave their bags behind. Ministers believe limiting passengers to hand luggage is the best way to get them home amid fears that the airport remains vulnerable to terrorist attack.
David Cameron faced a furious backlash from Russia and Egypt last night over his handling of the Sharm El Sheikh crisis, as it emerged British spies uncovered intelligence that the plane crash was caused by an ISIS bomb.
Whitehall sources revealed that, in the days after the Russian airliner was downed last weekend, they trawled back through communications data intercepted on suspects in Syria and Egypt. This led officials at GCHQ and MI5, and US counterparts, to conclude the disaster was highly unlikely to have been an accident.
But in a tense ten-minute phone call yesterday, Vladimir Putin rounded on the Prime Minister over his declaration that the Russian Airbus was downed by a terrorist bomb. Such a development would be a political disaster for Moscow, which would face allegations it failed to protect its own citizens.
Egypt reacted angrily to Mr Cameron’s suspension of flights to and from Sharm – a move that could deal a shattering blow to the country’s tourism industry.
Mr Putin is desperate to avoid claims the tragedy, which killed 224 people on Saturday, was a revenge attack by IS terrorists angered by his military intervention in Syria.
Yesterday, as Russian airlines continued to operate flights in and out of Sharm, Mr Putin criticised Mr Cameron for pre-empting the outcome of a joint inquiry by Russia and Egypt into the disaster. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The President underlined that he thought all countries should wait for the investigation to be completed.
‘The Prime Minister was very clear that he will be driven by what is right for the safety of British citizens and that we were right to take the action that we did based on the information that we had … and our assessment of the situation.’
The Kremlin said in a statement: ‘Vladimir Putin stressed that assessment of the causes of the crash should be based on the data that would become available in the course of the official investigation.’
Downing Street declined to comment directly on the claim, but stressed that Mr Cameron’s national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch, has spoken to his Russian counterpart to share details of the intelligence that lay behind the PM’s decision to ground flights.
No 10 also played down the scale of the row with Mr Putin, saying the phone call was largely ‘cordial’, with the leaders voicing a shared determination to tackle terrorism.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, said he was very disappointed by the decision to suspend flights, accusing the UK government of making ‘a premature and unwarranted statement’ on the crash. source