The Russian plane that crashed in Egypt at the weekend “may well have been brought down by an explosive device”, Downing Street has said.
All flights between the UK and Sharm el-Sheikh have been suspended on Wednesday evening as UK experts assess security at the Egyptian airport.
Number 10 said flights had been delayed as a “precautionary measure” after “more information has come to light”.
Russian Airbus 321 crashed on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board.
“We would underline that this is a precautionary step and we are working closely with the airlines on this approach,” a Number 10 spokesman said.
Aviation experts have travelled to Egypt to make an assessment of the security arrangements at the Egyptian airport and expect to complete an investigation tonight.
Their findings will be considered in a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron, which is under way.
Egypt’s President Sisi is currently in the UK, and is due to meet the prime minister on Thursday. They spoke on Tuesday before Downing Street released its statement.
‘An explosive device’
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the delays would allow UK experts time to make sure “the right security measures are in place”.
“We can not categorically say why the Russia jet crashed but we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down as a result of an explosive device,” he said.
By Paul Adams, BBC defence correspondent
As mood music for a high-level diplomatic visit, this is pretty discordant.
With two telling words, “may well”, David Cameron’s spokesperson has left little doubt that British officials believe the Russian jet was brought down by a bomb. This contradicts President Sisi’s initial insistence that the crash was caused by a technical fault and strikes at the heart of Egypt’s precious tourism industry.
It’s one thing to suspend flights TO a foreign country, but to suspend them FROM that country and insist that your own technical experts assess security arrangements before flights can resume displays a striking lack of confidence in that country’s own security measures.
The continued success of Sharm el-Sheikh as a popular holiday destination depends entirely on the ability of the Egyptian authorities to seal off the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula from its troubled interior. The British statement clearly questions that ability. A negative assessment by the UK experts could have devastating consequences for the Egyptian tourism industry.
President Sisi’s visit to London was always going to be controversial, with critics wondering why the government was once again rolling out the red carpet for another foreign strongman.
But now that strongman’s possible weaknesses are being aired in public, at a time when he’s urging western partners to show faith in his leadership. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in, but will at least serve to underline President Sisi’s assertion that the danger posed by so-called Islamic State is a growing one which demands an international response.
BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott said there was some concern over airport security screening in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Following the announcement, EasyJet said it had delayed two UK-bound flights from the resort – one to Gatwick and one to Luton airport – this evening.
“We are doing all possible to keep passengers informed,” a spokesman added.
Thomson has suspended its flights to and from the resort, including flight TOM 895 out of Manchester Airport which was due to land at 2330.
The company apologised for any inconvenience caused to customers and said they would be in touch as more information became available.
A spokesman for British Airways, which is due to fly to Sharm el-Sheikh on Thursday, said: “Things are moving fast and we are waiting for the government to update later in the evening.”
The government said it recognised that the latest advice “may cause concern” for Britons already in the holiday resort and for those planning to travel, saying people should contact their airline or tour operators.
Extra consular staff have been deployed to the airport.
Foreign Office travel advice for passengers travelling to Egypt has not changed.
The BBC’s Christian Fraser says there are around 2,000 British holidaymakers currently in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Simon Calder, travel editor at the Independent, said “hundreds” more holidaymakers are due to fly back on Thursday or Friday, saying airlines might fly empty planes to Egypt in order to bring people home.
British holidaymaker Craig Peacock, who has been in Egypt for nine days, said finding out he may not be able to return home is “not the greatest news”.
But, he said, postponing flights was “the right thing – we don’t want a repeat of what happened last week”.
Another tourist, Sarah Cotterill, from Portsmouth, is at the airport waiting for a flight home, alongside several hundred other travellers.
She said there has been little information and airport staff have “no idea” how long they will be waiting.
The suspension of flights was “slightly humiliating” for Egyptian authorities, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardener said.
Our correspondent said the action comes as there have been “growing suspicions” the Russian plane was brought down by an explosive device, possibly by a bomb smuggled into the plane’s cargo hold.
The Metrojet flight bound for St Petersburg from Sharm el-Sheikh came down in Egypt’s Sinai desert.
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