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Russia grounds all flights to Egypt amid confusion over stranded Brits

Live updates: EasyJet says Egypt will not allow UK planes to land at Sharm el-Sheikh to bring British holidaymakers home

By Claire Cromie

Published 06/11/2015

Tourists queue at Sharm el-Sheikh airport
Tourists queue at Sharm el-Sheikh airport
An easyJet plane with about 165 British passengers on board takes off from the airport in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on November 6, 2015
In this photo made available Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, and provided by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, Egyptian Military on cars approach a plane's tail at the wreckage of a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims killed in a plane crash in Egypt home to St. Petersburg, a city awash in grief for its missing residents. (Maxim Grigoriev/Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations via AP)
Crowds of people wait at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, as only eight flights will depart from the Egyptian resort for the UK over the course of Friday, rather than the 29 initially expected, the country's authorities have said.
Tourists disembark a Russian plane at the airport in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on November 6, 2015
British tourists board a bus to go back to a hotel after it was announced there would be no more evacuation flights today departing the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, south Sinai, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.

All Russian flights to Egypt are suspended until the cause of the Sinai crash is determined, the Kremlin has announced.

UK investigators believe a bomb was put in the plane's hold prior to take-off, citing intelligence from intercepted communications.

The crash killed all 224 people on board and militants from the Sinai Province group, linked to Islamic State (ISIS), claim they brought the plane down.

President Vladimir Putin told authorities to repatriate the country's nationals from Sharm el-Sheikh pending the conclusion of the air crash inquiry.

British and Irish flights to Sharm el-Sheikh were grounded on Wednesday evening amid the security fears, but plans to bring home stranded holidaymakers are in disarray.

<<<Have you been caught up in the disruption? Get in touch with us>>>

EasyJet was preparing to send out nine empty planes from the UK today to bring home more than 1,500 passengers from the Red Sea resort, but it said Egyptian officials would not allow UK aircraft to land at the airport.

The airline says discussions are taking place "at the highest political level" to try to resolve the situation.

"We're sorry to inform passengers that our rescue plans that were put in place yesterday have been suspended by the Egyptian authorities," said an easyJet statement.

"Discussions are currently on-going at the highest political level to resolve this situation. We are very sorry and understand that this is extremely frustrating for our passengers - unfortunately the situation is outside of easyJet's control."

Sky News has reported that several "rescue flights" due to bring back stranded British tourists from Sharm el Sheikh have been diverted on their way to Egypt.

It is understood Thomas Cook, EasyJet, Monarch and Thomson flights are among those that set off to Egpyt but diverted midair.

However, Egypt’s minister of civil aviation Hossam Kamal, denied banning any flights.

He said airport capacity was the problem because of the volume of luggage being left behind by British passengers, who were told they could not take suitcases in the holds of planes.

“How can I leave the luggage of travellers from eighteen flights in the airport,” he asked, adding that he had asked for only eight flights to be sent, “to take account of the capacity of the airport and so as not to disrupt [airport] traffic.”

The Metrojet Airbus A321 was flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it came down in Sinai on Saturday. Most of the victims were Russian.

'Terrorist attack would damage both Egyptian tourist industry and Russia's reputation'

Russia and Egypt are trying to control the narrative of last week's plane crash, a security analyst has warned.

Tim Williams, managing director of corporate intelligence firm Stirling Assynt, told Sky News that Cairo and Moscow were frustrated by UK and US suggestions that Metrojet Flight 9268 was downed by a terrorist bomb.

Egypt does not want to exacerbate the damage to its tourist sector, he said, while terrorist attacks are embarrassing for Russia.

Mr Williams said of Russian president Vladimir Putin: "There was a mixed reaction at home in terms of his initial decision to go into Syria, and it was seemingly the case that the Kremlin saw it as a relatively short-term measure. The longer it goes on, the more Russia could be drawn into that conflict, the more risk there will be embarrassing attacks.

"All of that risks playing badly at home in the long-term for Putin, and he is walking a rather thin line right now, to try to be seen to be tough, to respond, but also not to be drawn too far into this fight."

He continued: "There are huge risks to the Egyptian government - the tourist industry is absolutely critical to their economy.

"Sharm el-Sheikh is at the centre of that, and they are very, very assertively trying to control the narrative around this, so they can try and minimise damage to their sector, and to try and ensure that they retain the support of a significant proportion of the Egyptian population, and deliver economic progress to them."

Mr Williams tentatively blamed the jihadist group Ansar Jerusalem, a jihadist group recently amalgamated into IS, for the attack.

He said: "We can't be certain yet that Ansar Jerusalem, or Wilayat Sinai to give it its more recent name since it pledged allegiance to Islamic State, we can't be certain as to whether it was behind this incident, but it looks increasingly likely that it was.

"It has the capability to carry out an attack of this sort, and it fits absolutely wholeheartedly with its agenda and its emerging agenda to target Egypt's tourist sector in this way, and also to target Russian interests in this way."

He continued: "We understand that its leadership travelled via Libya to Syria to meet with senior IS figures there. It is likely that it acquired significant bomb-making expertise in doing so, because al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is the group that really pioneered the jihadist aviation threat and the technology to carry it out.

Mr Williams explained: "It previously only really targeted the government and security forces, but it's started in the last six months to target Western interests, very much at the core of Islamic State's agenda, and now targeting Russian interests in this way, again, very much at the core of Islamic State's agenda since Russia went into Syria."

Tourists say they paid £20 to skip airport security

British holidaymakers have told how they have been offered the chance to pay up to £20 to skip queues and bag checks at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

The Government suspended air links on Wednesday amid fears a bomb was used to down a Russian passenger plane in Egypt, killing 224 people.

Dale Parkyn, who visited the Red Sea resort with his wife earlier this year, told Sky News they were approached by a man in military uniform and asked if they would like to avoid the long queues.

The 47 year old, from Harrogate, said: "What we did is we discussed it and he then produced a £20 note and said, 'Have you one of these' and you can avoid the queue.

"We walked right through the security gates and security procedure, straight through the airport, avoided all the queues, and then he put the case on the conveyor belt and the girl checked us in. At no point did my luggage go through any scanner. When I think now, it was bizarre.

"At the time it was quite amusing that for us, for £20, we'd avoided all the queues."

He said he realised the "gravity" of the situation after seeing news of the Government's announcement.

Brendan De Garis, from Maidstone, told the Sun razors were missed in one queue-jumper's luggage.

He said: "David Cameron did the right thing. The airport's not safe. The staff I saw were arrogant, complacent, and a danger to the public.

"Security was such a shambles I was relieved when we were turned round at the gate."

Security has since been tightened at the airport following the suspension of flights, including a ban on carrying hold luggage.

Wayne Barber, 47, a lighting company manager who lives in Basingstoke and flew back from Sharm-el-Sheikh just hours before the Russian plane crashed, told the Press Association he was shocked at the lax security at the airport.

Mr Barber, who had been on holiday with his wife and daughter, said he accidentally left a bottle of water and can of Coke in his hand luggage, but despite scanning the bag security staff failed to spot it.

He said: "They were rubbish. I talked to a bloke there - I gave him the can and the bottle and said 'These have just got through. How did that happen?'. They didn't care. It was just shocking.

"When I was being scanned I beeped and they didn't check me.

"I just think it is horrendous. It is too slack. There are people in place to do the job, but they are just not doing it. It is like we are just disturbing them or something. They are all on their phones or on some gadget.

"My wife was an air stewardess for more than 20 years and she was just shocked we got the drinks through. It could be anything in there."

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