ISIS and Kogalymavia Flight 9268

Now that both the UK Prime Minister and US President are on record talking about the “possibility” that Kogalymavia Flight 9268 was brought down by a bomb, we have to treat that possibility at least somewhat seriously. To be sure, the fact that the US and UK governments appear to agree on a thing does not by any means suggest that the thing in question is true, but it is hard to believe that advisers to both David Cameron and Barack Obama would let them make such public statements on Flight 9268’s crash without some evidence supporting them. The final clue that there really must be some evidence suggesting a bomb came when Russia announced earlier today that it was stopping all flights to and from Egypt. Until somebody actually says it was a bomb, which shouldn’t be that hard to determine (explosives leave traces), we shouldn’t just assume it was a bomb — but a the same time, there’s clearly something to this theory beyond idle speculation.

On the “it wasn’t a bomb” front, Kogalymavia announced a couple of days ago that it was grounding all of its Airbus A321s until it could run “additional checks” on those aircraft. So it would seem that the airline, at least, hasn’t ruled out some kind of mechanical failure. On the “maybe it was a bomb” front, there is apparently some kind of very suspicious-sounding “noise” that can be heard on the flight recorder just before the plane went down.

Obviously, if it was a bomb, then ISIS is likely to blame — so likely that I’m not sure there’s another obvious suspect. Their most active affiliate is the so-called “Sinai Province,” so they have a significant presence in the area. They’ve obviously got a beef with Russia, even though ISIS has actually done pretty well for itself in Syria lately despite Russian airstrikes. And Sharm el-Sheikh airport, where this flight originated, isn’t exactly known for its tight security. ISIS has officially claimed responsibility for “downing” the plane (though not, as far as my admittedly limited Arabic and Turkish — or French, for that matter — can discern, for “shooting it down,” even though a lot of media outlets are saying that they claimed to have shot it down), and even though that could be a lie, there is a growing pile of evidence to support their claim.

If it was ISIS, what happens then? Is this a “real game-changer for the region,” as an NBC News analyst said?

Before we figure that out, is there any chance that we could excise the term “game-changer” from the English language forever?

Sorry, I figured I’d ask.

Anyway, sure, this is a new frontier for ISIS, so in that sense it’s kind of a big deal. It’s also the biggest airline-related terrorist attack since 9/11. But it’s not as though ISIS’s graduation from suicide bombing on the ground to taking down an airplane could have been unexpected. And it’s certainly not as though they managed to smuggle a bomb on board a flight from London to the US; again, Sharm el-Sheikh airport is an inviting target with loose security that’s right in the backyard of the group’s strongest affiliate. I don’t think we all need to panic about ISIS going after passenger jets in general at this point. This was clearly a target of opportunity.

I would imagine that, if/when Russia comes out and publicly says it was an ISIS bomb that took the plane down, you can expect some kind of Russian retaliation in Syria. Maybe that’s already happened; Russian aircraft reportedly struck ISIS’s “capital,” Raqqa, earlier this week, killing 25 militants and another 17 civilians. That’s not a massive retaliation, but it’s probably the biggest single Russian attack on ISIS so far in their Syrian campaign. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin may start to feel the heat a little bit because of this attack, as the Russian public may wonder if propping up Bashar al-Assad was really worth a couple hundred Russian lives.

Egypt’s tourism business, which still hasn’t recovered to pre-Arab Spring levels, is undoubtedly going to take a hit from this incident regardless of what caused the crash, though it will probably be a much bigger hit if it was, in fact, terrorism. And while that’s obviously a secondary concern, compared with the 200+ people whose lives were lost on the plane and their now-grieving loved ones, it’s not nothing to the Egyptian people, whose national economy depends to a huge degree (over 10% of Egypt’s GDP) on the tourist trade.

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