It increasingly appears as if the Russian Metrojet airbus that crashed in the Sinai with the loss of 224 lives on October 31 broke up in flight. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the crash, saying that it destroyed the plane, presumably with a missile. It is not generally believed that ISIS possesses missiles with enough range to reach a plane flying at 33,000 feet. There aren’t any readily available man-launched missiles capable of reaching a plane flying that high, but a number of heavier systems, some light enough to be carried in a pickup truck, could do it.

One of the reasons that the US has been so hesitant to arm Syrian rebels is the fear that such weapons could get into the wrong hands, and if ISIS did shoot the plane down, then this has happened.

There are various interests involved. The Russian and Egyptian governments, for political reasons, would prefer that the plane was found to have broken up due to a structural failure. The airline and Airbus Industrie would prefer that it was shot down, which would greatly reduce the liability of both parties.

There are four entities that have the right under international agreements to examine the remains of the aircraft: the airline, Airbus Industrie, and the two countries involved. Egyptian authorities gave the black boxes to the Russians, as is appropriate under those agreements. If the Russians release unaltered transcripts, then it is likely that the full story will emerge. If they don’t, then it can be assumed that the plane was shot down and they don’t wish to admit this. The only party likely to provide an objective analysis is Airbus Industrie, which is operating under regulatory authorities and with oversight that will make it difficult for them to issue a false report.

Right now, the US is not ruling out terrorism and the airline is claiming that the plane was destroyed by "outside forces." It rare that a structural failure occurs that is extensive enough to cause a modern jet to break up without something like a bomb or missile being involved. But it is not unknown: A Japan airlines 747 experienced a catastrophic decompression in 1985, but the plane remained intact for 46 minutes until it finally crashed. Similarly a China Airline 747 broke up as it was leaving Taiwan in 2002, an event also caused by a catastrophic decompression due to a faulty repair of the tail.

Other reports claim that preliminary investigation of the black boxes by Russian and French experts indicate that the plane was not struck from the outside, but do not rule out the possibility of a bomb on board.

The video footage shown here was released yesterday by ISIS, and purports to be imagery of the Metrojet plane being shot down. Western experts have disputed the claim and asserted that the video is a fake as it shows no missile contrail approaching the aircraft.

To read Whitley’s Journal "Terror and the Why of ISIS," click here.

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