CAIRO – The airport that the doomed Russian plane that crashed in Egypt in late October left from has been revealed to have lax security and a history of aviation scares, but security upgrades may extend well beyond it.
Britain’s foreign secretary said Sunday airport security in many cities will need to be overhauled if it is confirmed the Russian plane crash in the Sinai was caused by a bomb planted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or someone inspired by the militants.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned that if those suspicions are true, there needs to be a rethink of security at airports in areas where the extremist group is active.
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He told the BBC Sunday that “may mean additional costs, it may mean additional delays at airports as people check in.”
The airport at Egypt’s resort of Sharm el-Sheikh has long seen gaps in security, including a key baggage scanning device that often is not functioning and lax searches at an entry gate for food and fuel for the planes, security officials at the airport told The Associated Press.
Security at the airport, and others around Egypt, have become a central concern as investigators probe the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian plane 23 minutes after it left Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 on board. The U.S. and Britain have said the cause was likely a bomb planted on the flight, and Russia has halted flights to Egypt until security at airports is improved.
Seven officials involved in security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, several for more than a decade, told the AP of the gaps, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. Several said the malfunctioning scanner had been noted in security reports to their superiors, but the machine was not replaced.
One of the officials, involved in security for planes, also pointed to bribe-taking by poorly paid policemen monitoring X-ray machines. “I can’t tell you how many times I have caught a bag full of drugs or weapons that they have let through for 10 euros or whatever,” he said.
Egyptian authorities are preventing camera crews from foreign media from filming inside the Sharm el-Sheikh airport, along the city’s main tourist strip in Naama Bay, or other public areas.
Lines for departure were normal on Sunday, with most flights scheduled for the afternoon and evening, including those for Britain and Russia. Egyptian state and private channels, allowed to film inside the airport, highlighted security checks and luggage scanning at the main queue for international departures.
The Mideast’s biggest airline says it is reviewing security procedures in Egypt but remains committed to flying there as suspicions grow that a bomb brought down a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula.
Emirates airline President Tim Clark told reporters Sunday at the start of the Dubai Airshow that Egypt is “an enormously important market” to the carrier and that it is important that it maintains its operations there.
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He says Dubai-based Emirates is reviewing its procedures relating to security, ground handling and access to aircraft while they are on the ground in Egypt.
Emirates operates two daily roundtrip flights linking Cairo with Dubai, the Middle East’s commercial hub. It does not fly to Sharm el-Sheikh, the departure airport for the doomed Russian airliner.
A deputy Russian prime minister says the first of three teams of Russian inspectors has been dispatched to Egypt to examine security conditions at airports there.
Arkady Dvorkovich’s announcement Sunday follows Russia’s decision Friday to suspend passenger flights to Egypt because of security concerns.
Dvorkovich did not give details of specific issues on which the inspectors might focus.
He said that 11,000 Russians were flown home from Egypt on Saturday and an even larger number were expected to leave Sunday, according to Russian news agencies.
Russians flying out of Egypt are allowed to take only cabin baggage. The Ministry of Defense said Sunday that it has sent two Il-76 cargo planes to Egypt to bring back larger luggage the Russians had to leave behind.
Earlier Saturday, the head of the joint investigation team, Ayman el-Muqadem, said a noise was heard in the last second of the cockpit voice recording before the plane plummeted. The announcement bolstered U.S. and British suspicions it was brought down by a bomb.
However, el-Muqadem warned it was too early to say what caused the plane to apparently break up in mid-flight, adding that analysis of the noise was underway.
“All scenarios are being considered … it could be lithium batteries in the luggage of one of the passengers, it could be an explosion in the fuel tank, it could be fatigue in the body of the aircraft, it could be the explosion of something,” he told reporters at Cairo press conference.
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