British Airways suspended all flights to Cairo because of a specific threat made against one of its jets, it has been claimed.
The airline has cancelled flights to the Egyptian capital for a week after security services picked up ‘chatter’ that one of its planes would be targeted.
German airline Lufthansa also temporarily suspended flights from the airport, but resumed its service yesterday.
British Airways has cancelled flights to the Egyptian capital for a week following a security review
An aviation source told The Sun: ‘There was chatter picked up that suggested a specific threat to a BA jet and so to ensure safety the flights were cancelled.
‘We constantly review our security arrangements at all our airports around the world, and have suspended flights to Cairo for seven days to allow for further assessment.
The suspensions, announced on Saturday, come amid growing concerns about activity in the country by remaining cells linked to Islamic State.
Jihadists from the group are based in the Sinai peninsula but their activities could be spreading to the capital.
In 2015, ISIS terrorists bombed a Russian Metrojet airliner after it took off from Sharm El-Sheikh – a Sinai resort popular with British tourists – killing all 224 people on board.
It is thought terrorists may have used a sympathetic airport mechanic to smuggle a bomb onboard.
Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said yesterday the authorities may fear a copycat attack.
‘The fact that they may have chosen a specific airport suggests that [the threat] is linked to the airport rather than the country,’ he said.
‘A security gap at an airport is more likely to be human than technical. They may have noticed that it’s possible to sneak stuff past security, that bag checks aren’t as good as they are supposed to be or one of the companies supplying security guards wasn’t as thorough as they would want.
‘It’s worth remembering when we’re talking about Egypt that we had the attacks [over Sinai] when IS bombed a Russian flight.
‘This is a part of the world where targeting aviation has been of clear interest to terrorist groups.’
The Metrojet atrocity prompted the suspension of all UK flights to Sharm, which remains out of bounds to UK aircraft.
BA operates six return flights a week between Heathrow and Cairo, meaning up to 2,400 people have been affected
Three Egyptian airport security sources told Reuters British staff carried out security checks at Cairo airport on Wednesday and Thursday. Hundreds of families have had their holiday plans thrown into chaos following the cancellations, which coincide with the first week of the school summer break.
BA operates six return flights a week between Heathrow and Cairo, meaning up to 2,400 people have been affected.
The airline said it was offering the chance to travel with alternative carriers like EgyptAir and provided food and hotel vouchers. The fact it has provided rebooking facilities has prompted questions over whether BA is the target although Mr Pantucci does not think this likely.
He said: ‘If BA is being threatened and targeted it would be very strange for them to react in this way, for just a time-sensitive period. If they managed to get their hands on a specific strand of intelligence about the airline, by releasing it like this, they would make it clear to wherever that threat came from that they know about the threat, which would compromise the source of that information.’
Passengers about to board a BA flight from Heathrow to Cairo on Saturday – the first to be cancelled – told of confusion and a lack of information. Christine Shelbourne, 70, from Surrey, told the -: ‘My 11-year-old grandson is heartbroken – he’s been looking forward to the trip for months.’
Egypt’s aviation minister Younis Al-Masry yesterday ‘expressed his displeasure at British Airways taking a decision unilaterally concerning the security of Egyptian airports without referring to the competent Egyptian authorities.’
Duncan Hart, a British tourist who had been in Cairo to watch the African Cup of Nations, had been due to fly back to London at 8am yesterday morning before British Airways cancelled his flight.
He was rebooked onto an Egypt Air flight departing an hour later. He said on Twitter: ‘I’m a bit confused because if there still are serious security concerns, why would they allow me to fly from the same airport merely an hour later.’
Mr Hart said he underwent three thorough security checks, but described the airport as ‘easy’ and ‘calm’.
He later posted that he had arrived home in Peckham, south London, on schedule.
The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice, stating: ‘There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation. Additional security measures are in place for flights departing from Egypt to the UK.’
Air France, Emirates and Etihad Airways are continuing their flights to Cairo. Flights from the UK to other Egyptian airports, including services by tour operators to Red Sea coast resorts, have not been affected.
Egypt’s aviation minister Younis Al-Masry yesterday ‘expressed his displeasure at British Airways taking a decision unilaterally without referring to Egyptian authorities’.