Has terror struck again? Egypt Air MS804

This morning the world woke up to the news of yet another aircraft disappearing from radar. Egypt Air MS804, a 2003 Airbus 320, was en route from Paris to Cairo when is vanished from radar 200km from the Egyptian coastline. 

It immediately raised the question whether this disappearance was the result of another terror attack. Both France and Egypt have been leading targets for terror groups in recent months. As recent as October 2015, a Russian Airbus 321 operated by Metrojet was shot down by ISIS militants in the Sinai area of Egypt. France also had its fair share of horror terror attacks in 2015.

What are the most likely scenarios with regards to the disappearance of Egypt Air MS804?

Mechanical Failure

The aircraft was at a 37 000 feet cruise altitude, which is the safest part of the trip. Flight conditions appear to have been perfectly normal with no adverse weather conditions reported. The A320 is one of the most reliable aircraft in the world along with the Boeing 737. A mechanical failure, which would've allowed the crew to at least report an emergency to air traffic controllers. The information currently at hand, indicate that an emergency transmission was received within the area of the aircraft's position, which can indicate that this has come from the electronic locater transmitter (ELT). Unlike the ELT on military aircraft, the ELT on commercial aircraft do not detach and float but will most likely sink with the debris of the aircraft.

On impact, the ELT will then transmit an electronic signal to indicate the area of impact. Seeing that this was a sudden disappearance without any distress calls from the crew, the possibility of a catastrophic explosion of some sort is highly likely.

Terrorism

Prior to arriving in Paris, the aircraft visited Eritrea, Tunis and Cairo. All three of these locations are known to be linked to terror groups operating within those countries and access to the aircraft on the tarmac in those areas need to be looked at if an explosive device was smuggled on board.

One of the passengers on board might have also been able to smuggle a device on board in Paris but this would've been extremely difficult without the help of a ground crew member at CDG as their screening system is one of the best in the world. Either an explosive device was placed on board with a remote trigger by one of the passengers or a suicide vest was placed on board to be used by one of the passengers.

A suicide bomber would have most likely alerted fellow passengers or crew members and a possible distress call might have been made or sudden movements on the aircraft flight path would have indicated a struggle on board, assuming the bomber would've been able to gain access to the highly secure cockpit area.

Recently, numerous staff members at this airport were fired because of their apparent links to terror groups.

Up until now, no terror group has claimed responsibility for the crash and investigators will only be able to determine whether an explosion has occured on board, when they inspect the debris for explosive traces once found. 

It is highly unlikely that the aircraft was shot down by militants as it was way above the range of any rocket propelled grenade held by militants in the region. It is also unlikely that the aircraft has been shot down by a military aircraft as the region is densely monitored by both satellite and military radars.

In August 2015, the Daily Star reported that Al Qaeda are planning on bringing down an aircraft by recruiting a Western passport holder:

An official in Kabul said: "It has been a goal of those in the Arabian Peninsula for some time to develop a 'hidden bomb' and evidence now points towards them actively targeting recruits to take a device on to passenger aircraft.

"Their ideal is to identify and train a Western passport holder who is not known to us [the intelligence or security community] so they can transport a device on to a plane and explode it mid-air, preferably from their standpoint over a significant city.

"As such a British passport holder with no history or known links to these groups would be an ideal.

"Some are known to be in the region.

"We believe they have been actively looking for some time for the right person while in parallel they have been working on ways of slipping through the net at airports with a device."

With the current information at hand and neither the French or Egyptian governments confirming anything besides that the aircraft has gone down in the Mediterranean Sea, a terror attack on Egypt Air MS804 is highly likely.

The story is developing.

 

 

Barry Oberholzer

TerrorTech, 30 Wall Street, New York, NY, 10005

Born in Houston, Texas, a former professional rugby player and current CrossFit and Ironman athlete, Barry  is the founder of TerrorMate app and is a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert. Formerly Barry served as a confidential informant for Department of Homeland Security, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Belgium Customs Intelligence and HM Revenue & Customs Intelligence in the United Kingdom. 

One of his most impactful successes was in his identification of Iranian sanction busting syndicates who smuggled US manufactured aircraft and parts to Iran which led to the arrests of several prominent international businessmen. He also had numerous successes in major illicit cigarette seizures in Europe.