Why no claim?

Two days after it crashed, with wreckage and human remains now reportedly being found in the Mediterranean, no group has yet “credibly” claimed responsibility for bringing down EgyptAir Flight MS804, though Egyptian authorities seem to have decided that this was in fact a terrorist attack. In the abstract that’s not unusual; the vast majority of terrorist acts since 1998 have gone unclaimed, which probably runs counter to what most people think when they think of terrorism, but numbers are numbers. But for this particular attack it seems odd that nobody’s claimed credit yet. ISIS usually takes credit for its attacks unless it stands to benefit from uncertainty–for example, it hasn’t (as far as I know) claimed credit for its (suspected) attacks in Turkey, probably because any uncertainty over whether ISIS or the PKK were behind an attack in Turkey could work to ISIS’s benefit. I’m struggling to figure out how sowing uncertainty about this incident would do anything for ISIS. Ditto for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the other leading suspect. I’m not sure what blowing this plane up and then not taking credit for it would accomplish for either AQAP or its North African cousin, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

It’s possible that a claim will come in the next few days or weeks; sometimes it takes a while. It’s also possible that there’s some other organization behind the downing of the plane that either doesn’t want to go public for some reason or is too new/small to go public as effectively and safely as ISIS and al-Qaeda can (though the level of planning that would have gone into a scheme like this suggests that it was done by a group with experience and resources). There are elements of the Muslim Brotherhood who have turned violent amid Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s crackdown against the organization. It’s possible that a rogue Brotherhood element, looking to deal a blow to Sisi by further damaging Egypt’s already depressed tourism industry, could have carried out something like this while also looking to avoid credit for it.

Or, maybe, we should stop getting ahead of ourselves and consider that while terrorism may be the likeliest explanation for this crash, it’s not necessarily the right explanation. The Aviation Herald is reporting that the flight’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) reported smoke in a lavatory and the avionics bay just before the plane crashed. That doesn’t rule out an explosion, but the sense I’m getting from listening to all these aviation experts on my TV (cable news addiction, remember) is that some kind of mechanical/electrical failure suddenly seems a little more possible than it did yesterday. Again, foul play still seems like the better bet–it’s very rare for a plane to just crash at cruising altitude–but a lot of people seem to have leaped to a conclusion here without waiting for all the facts to come in. Finding the fuselage would help settle this uncertainty, since there would be clear signs of an explosion if that’s what happened. But finding the fuselage may be much easier said than done.

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