• Government says wait until investigation is concluded
  • U.K. advises against non-essential travel to Sharm El-Sheikh

Egypt, mindful of the potential blow to tourism, criticized U.S. and U.K. assessments that a bomb may have brought down a Russian jetliner after it left an Egyptian resort area, saying any conclusions were premature.

Investigators haven’t found any evidence or information proving the plane was downed by an on-board explosion, Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal said in a statement Thursday. He said his country was cooperating with U.S. and U.K. aviation regulators in implementing any “required additional measures.”

Hours earlier, the U.K. had cited possible evidence of a bombing as it advised against non-essential travel to the Sharm el-Sheikh vacation area. If confirmed, a bombing could deal a major blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which hasn’t recovered from the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and its aftermath.

While the military’s focus has been on fighting insurgents in northern Sinai, the southern part of the peninsula that’s home to Sharm El-Sheikh and other popular diving resorts has largely been spared the unrest. The Islamic State militant group has claimed it brought down the plane in retribution for Russian airstrikes on Syria, without saying how it purportedly did so.

U.K. statements and actions provide the strongest suggestion to date that terrorism was indeed behind Saturday’s crash, which killed all 224 people aboard.

‘Significant Possibility’

Britain has “concluded there is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Wednesday. Three U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said terrorism was now the leading hypothesis.

Before the U.K. took precautions, several airlines in Europe and the Middle East had already rerouted their flights away from Sharm El-Sheikh after Islamic State issued its claim on Saturday. U.K. travel companies led by EasyJet Plc and Thomas Cook Group Plc said Thursday that they were preparing to evacuate about 10,000 tourists stranded in Egypt.

The Islamic State affiliate in Egypt has repeatedly proven it can carry out attacks on Egyptian security installations using intelligence gleaned from insiders, Mokhtar Awad, an analyst at the Center for American Progress research institute in Washington, said in e-mail comments.

“With this in mind, it’s not far-fetched that they may have penetrated a small airport,” he said, and the military’s response “will likely be very swift and merciless as the government cannot afford a jihadist base of operations there.”

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