Egyptian investigators have found traces of explosives on the remains of victims of last May's EgyptAir plane crash. Terrorist motives had been played down and no group has claimed responsibility.
Announcing the discovery of small amounts of explosive substances on the bodies of some of those killed in the May 19 crash, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement it had sent medical forensic reports on the traces to national prosecutors.
EgyptAir Flight 804 was en route to Cairo from Paris when it plunged into the eastern Mediterranean, about 30 minutes from landing.
All 66 people on board were killed, including 40 Egyptians and 15 French nationals.
No one has so far claimed to have attacked the Airbus A320 plane and investigators had previously said that a fire on board was likely responsible.
Audio from the flight recorder mentions a blaze on board in its final moments and an earlier analysis of the plane's flight data recorder showed there had been smoke in the lavatory and avionics bay.
Egypt initially played down suggestions of foul play, but the country's aviation minister eventually conceded that a terrorist attack was the most likely cause of the crash.
Airbus declined to comment on Thursday's announcement out of Cairo. France's air safety agency BEA meanwhile said that the news had to be treated with caution:
"In the absence of detailed information on the conditions in which samples were taken and measures which led to the detection of traces of explosives, BEA does not consider it possible at this stage to draw conclusions on the origin of the accident," a spokesman said. French authorities had earler hinted at frustrations with the pace of the investigation but stopped short of openly criticising Egypt.
In September, French investigators said that they had found trace levels of the explosive material TNT on the plane's debris but were prevented from further examining it, according to a report in the French daily "Le Figaro." Egyptian officials denied that report whilet he French Foreign Ministry said the causes of the crash were still being investigated:
"France, like it has been from the beginning of this tragic accident, remains at the disposal of the relevant Egyptian authorities to contribute to this investigation, including with the means of its experts," it said.
The EgyptAir crash happened almost six months after a Russian passenger jet broke up in midair shortly after take-off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.
The local affiliate of the extremist "Islamic State" (IS) group said it planted a bomb on board the Russian plane. Moscow said the aircraft was likely brought down by explosives.
In the months that followed both crashes, Egypt has spent millions of dollars trying to restore international confidence in its airport security measures.
Moscow had suspended all flights to Egypt after the October crash, while Britain canceled flights to Sharm El-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort from which the Russian airliner took off.
mm,ss/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)