EgyptAir Flight 804 Crash: Assume Terrorism Until Conclusively Proven Otherwise

There is no place for analysis paralysis in the global fight against terrorism.

Investigators are holding back from drawing any definitive conclusions as to the cause of the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 last Thursday during a flight from Paris to Cairo, pending retrieval of flight recorders and further examination of the wreckage. However, terrorism is suspected as the most likely cause.

The Islamic State has not taken credit for causing the crash. However, its leaders used the news of the crash and the approach of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan to urge their supporters to step up attacks on Westerners. “Ramadan is upon us, the month of invasions and jihad… the month of conquests. So get ready and prepared. Be keen on spending it as a conqueror in the name of God,” said Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, an Islamic State spokesman and senior leader in an online posting. ISIS may well be keeping mum for the time being to allow more terrorist plots to unfold during Ramadan, and then celebrate a series of successful attacks all at once.

The Obama administration is saying little about the crash other than to offer “deepest condolences” for the 66 people on board the flight who lost their lives. As to whether terrorism was involved, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest refused to speculate. “At this time we do not yet know definitively what caused the disappearance of Flight 804,” he said. 

Secretary of State John Kerry also would not offer any opinion as to what might have caused the crash. “I just don’t have the information on which to base this, and I don’t think the experts have the information yet on which to base this,” he said. “And nothing does more harm to people or countries than to start speculating ahead of time, so I’m — I don’t want to do that.”

President Obama was off playing golf on Friday and has not weighed in personally on his thoughts about the crash.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had a markedly different reaction. He did not wait long before tweeting his suspicion that terrorists were responsible for the tragedy, and criticized the Obama administration for equivocating. “When will we get tough, smart and vigilant?” he said. “Great hate and sickness!”

Several hours after Trump’s tweet, Hillary Clinton said in interview with CNN, “It does appear that it was an act of terrorism.”

Trump received heavy criticism from the usual establishment precincts for supposedly rushing to a conclusion without incontrovertible evidence. A liberal blog proclaimed that Trump’s tweet contained “the type language and assumption that a potential president should never make.” They are wrong.

An effective leader of the free world facing the scourge of global terrorism cannot afford to suffer from Hamlet-like analysis paralysis. He or she must be able to quickly grasp patterns of behavior, connect the dots and respond accordingly. When incidents like the sudden plunge of Flight 804 into the Mediterranean Sea occur in this day and age, especially over the skies of Europe, the Middle East or northern Africa, terrorism should be presumed unless rebutted by incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.  

Planes do not usually just fall from the sky without some sort of warning or distress call. We know that ISIS has already successfully brought down an airplane flying over Egyptian airspace. A Russian charter flight with a bomb smuggled aboard blew up last October. Thus, it is only natural to assume, until proven conclusively otherwise, that an act of terrorism brought down the Egyptian aircraft over Egyptian airspace last week as it headed to Egypt from the major international airport hub of France, a country also actively targeted by ISIS.  Moreover, the plane had just previously made stops in northern Africa where terrorism is rife and airport security is lax.

Jihadist sympathizers also were found in the past to have infiltrated the staffs at Cairo Airport and Charles de Gaulle Airport. 

It just so happens that about two years ago an eerie threat was written in Arabic on the same EgyptAir jetliner involved in last week’s crash. “We will bring this plane down,” the threat read. Coincidence? Perhaps. However, the fact that aviation workers at Cairo Airport were reportedly responsible for the threat highlights the vulnerability of commercial aircraft to sabotage from aviation workers who have easy access to the aircraft they maintain and service. 

As for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, dozens of workers lost their “secure-zone” access last year alone for cases of “radicalization.” There are approximately 86,000 staff who have access to security zones and their clearance is routinely reviewed only every three years. 

There are multiple locations in a plane where small explosives concealed in innocent looking packages or containers can be left behind by workers unnoticed. A lavatory is one example. In the case of EgyptAir Flight 804, smoke alarms were reportedly activated minutes before the crash indicating lavatory smoke, according to analysis of data from signals sent by the plane’s monitoring system. 

Finally, the pilot of Flight 804, Mohammed Shakeer, a devout Muslim said to have had a link with a prominent Muslim Brotherhood operative who recruited for jihad in Libya, reportedly told colleagues before the fateful flight that he was ready to die. Shakeer’s brother was quoted as saying, “my brother Mohammed [the pilot] called me before he took off on that fateful day and asked me to pray for him and I do consider him a martyr.“

We may never know for sure what happened aboard EgyptianAir Flight 804. However, it is better to be safe than sorry. Until conclusively proven otherwise, we should assume the worst and plan accordingly. That way we will have a better chance of staying one step ahead of the jihadists who mean to do us harm.