The Islamic State released a 31-minute statement on Saturday that was mostly significant for what it didn't say. Specifically, the message didn't mention Flight 804, the EgyptAir plane that crashed on Thursday in the Mediterranean.
In the hours following the crash, officials were quick to suggest that it might have been terrorism. Egypt's aviation minister said the likelihood of "a terror attack is higher than the possibility" of a technical failure. French President Francois Hollande also mentioned terrorism as a possible explanation for why the jet suddenly swerved and then seemingly plunged into the sea with 66 people aboard en route from Paris to Cairo.
Officials and security analysts have noted that if the crash was in fact caused by a terrorist attack, it's unusual for militant groups to wait so long to issue a claim of responsibility. When Russian MetroJet Flight 9268 crashed over the Sinai Peninsula last year, the Islamic State claimed responsibility that same evening.
Stratfor, a global intelligence group, explained on Saturday why it was significant that the jihadist world had so far been quiet about the plane.
"Judging by the pattern of previous claims, if the Islamic State, al-Qaeda or a regional affiliate were behind this attack, we would have expected to see a claim of responsibility by now," Stratfor wrote. "The lack of a claim... does not rule out terrorism in the EgyptAir incident. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda are most powerful when it comes to their ideology and their propaganda is more useful at inspiring grassroots jihadists to conduct their own attacks than in providing quality instruction on how to carry out an attack."
Stratfor also suggested that the Islamic State and other terror groups might have a good reason for holding back on issuing a claim of responsibility.
This whole #ISIS speech has no point. Summery: America is evil, Jews are terrible &anti IS Muslims are the worst. Lots of bla bla. @akhbar
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) May 21, 2016
"The more sinister but less likely explanation is that a terrorist group has figured out a novel way to attack aircraft and is concealing its involvement in order to replicate the attack elsewhere," Stratfor said. "The bombing of Philippines Airlines Flight 434 in December 1994 was not claimed because the planners hoped to use an improved version of the same device in a larger attack targeting 10 trans-Pacific airliners."
Stratfor noted that the EgyptAir plane had recently flown to destinations in France, Tunisia, and Eritrea, and said that if the crash was caused by a terrorist cell operating independently in those countries "then jihadist leaders and their media wings would be scrambling along with the rest of us to figure out what happened. As in the San Bernardino attack, it might take a few days for the jihadist propaganda arms to formulate a response."
On Saturday, France's air accident investigation agency reported that the EgyptAir jet sent a series of signals indicating that smoke had been detected on board earlier in the flight. The investigators said they had not yet determined what caused the smoke or fire onboard the aircraft.
One aviation source said that a fire on board would likely have generated multiple warning signals, while a sudden explosion may not have generated any — though officials stressed that no scenario, including explosion, is being ruled out.
Egypt said its navy had found human remains, wreckage and the personal belongings of passengers floating in the Mediterranean about 180 miles north of Alexandria.
While suggesting a possible fire, the relatively short sequence of data gives no insight into pilot efforts to control the aircraft, nor does it show whether it fell in one piece or disintegrated in mid-air, two aviation safety experts said.
"The question now is whether the fire that caused the smoke was the result of an electrical fault — for example a short-circuit caused by damaged wiring — or whether some form of explosive or incendiary device was used — for example by a terrorist — to generate a fire or other damage," aviation safety expert David Learmont said.
The New York Times spoke with three EgyptAir security officials who said that the same aircraft had been the target of a lesser attack about two years ago. A group of aviation workers at Cairo airport reportedly scrawled "We will bring this plane down" in Arabic across the jet's underside, along with the surname of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the words "traitor" and "murderer."
The officials, who spoke to the Times on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that the graffiti was reflective of the political environment at that time, and that it was unlikely to be linked to a militant threat.
Analysts noted that the Islamic State's statement on Saturday called for targeting civilians in the West, saying it "is preferred by us, it hurts them more." The audio recording, which was delivered by Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, the militant group's official spokesperson, also included several anti-Semitic remarks. It was widely characterized as a "pep talk" of sorts for the group's followers after a series of military defeats in Syria and Iraq.
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