On a sultry night at Sharm el-Sheikh, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East, events were much the same as any evening. Passengers’ tickets at the airport were scanned and passports stamped. People dozed on chairs; babies cried.
Outside, taxi-drivers loitered as chartered flights arrived or thundered away into the sky. One such departure early that morning on October 31 was Metrojet Flight 9268, taking Russian tourists home to St Petersburg from holidays on the Red Sea.
The Russian captain, a veteran called Valery Yurievich Nemov, had 12,000 hours of experience. The safety logs were up to date, though there had been previous damage to the aircraft when the tail was damaged — and repaired — in 2001.
Former KGB agent Boris Karpichkov believes Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind the bombing.
As the aircraft taxied shortly before 4am, there were 217 passengers on board, with seven crew. Take-off went smoothly. The plane climbed to a cruising altitude of 31,000ft, and was 23 minutes into its flight, heading north over the Sinai peninsula. Then the nightmare happened.
A shattering explosion towards the rear of the plane effectively split the aircraft in two and it crashed to the ground.
Bodies were found — many still strapped into their seats — scattered over a 30-mile radius 31,000 feet below where the aircraft broke up in the sky.
Experts say there would have been a ‘hurricane-like’ decompression ripping through the plane from back to front, tearing anything — and anybody — not strapped down into a maelstrom of airborne objects flying through the cabin.
Some of those aboard died of hypoxia — loss of oxygen — while many others were killed on impact with the ground. But the injuries suffered by those at the back of the plane were markedly different from those at the front. According to Russian sources, passengers in the front section suffered ‘blunt trauma of the chest, abdomen and pelvis, with multiple fractures to the upper and lower limbs and trauma to the internal organs’.
They add that passengers seated at the rear of the aircraft suffered ‘explosive trauma with multiple burns over 90 per cent of their soft tissues’, while their bodies had been peppered with shrapnel.
All the 224 passengers and crew died after the plane exploded at 31,000 feet just 23 minutes after departing
Islamic fanatics soon claimed responsibility for this horrific act of mass murder, subsequently publishing a photograph of a drinks can concealing a timer and explosives, which the extremists claimed had been smuggled on to the aircraft, and detonated after it took off.
Yet, intriguingly, the extremists initially seemed to have as little detail about what actually happened as authorities on the ground, who, in the first hours after the disaster, were unsure of the cause.
Instead, in a brief and strikingly vague statement, IS condemned ‘Russian crusaders’ for their involvement in Syria, and warned that infidels ‘neither have safety in the lands of Muslims nor in their air’ and that ‘soldiers of the Caliphate were able to down a Russian airplane over Sinai province’.
If anything, the implication seemed to be that they had shot down the plane from the ground, not sabotaged it with a bomb.
What’s not in dispute is that the atrocity prompted an extraordinary, seismic shift in world politics between former foes.
Even though sanctions had been imposed on the Moscow regime over its intervention in Ukraine, David Cameron immediately made efforts to improve relations with Russia by phoning President Vladimir Putin to tell him that the British people ‘shared the pain and grief’ of the Russian people.
Putin was said to have been ‘gladdened’ by the call, and welcomed Cameron’s offer to help Russia track down the perpetrators, as other world powers — including France, Germany and China — pledged their solidarity with Russia over the outrage.
Islamic fanatics soon claimed responsibility for the atrocity, but it provided a seismic shift in world politics.
Public opinion, both in Russia and internationally, swung behind Putin after he swore to take ruthless revenge on Islamic State. Moscow started bombing Syria (where ISIS is taking on the ruling Bashar al-Assad government) within days of the aircraft being downed.
But is all really as it seems over the story of Metrojet Flight 9268? Could there be another very disturbing explanation of how the aircraft was blown out of the sky?
One man certainly believes so: Boris Karpichkov, a former spy with the KGB (later renamed the FSB) who now lives under a new identity with his wife and family at a secret location in England after fleeing here in fear for his life.
His sensational claim at first seems unbelievable. For he maintains it was the Kremlin, not ISIS, that deliberately blew the plane out of the sky.
And he says Putin cynically authorised the tragedy not only to obtain worldwide sympathy at a time when Russia was being treated as a pariah because of its aggression towards Ukraine, but also to gain support for its ostensible belligerence against ISIS, which Putin would use as a cover to attack rebel groups in Syria who were sworn enemies of his ally President al-Assad.
Of course, this could simply be the most monstrous slur by a deeply disenchanted man. For it has to be said that Major Karpichkov fell out with his KGB paymasters over money he claimed was owed to him, and ended up in jail before fleeing to Britain.
Yet his case deserves to be aired, particularly in view of the history of black propaganda emanating from Putin and his Kremlin cronies, and his argument is compelling.
Relatives grieve Russian plane crash in Egypt's Sinai.
Major Karpichov claimed the bombing was an attempt to 'kill two rabbits with one bullet' as it allowed Russia to bomb Bashar al-Assad's enemies in Syria while bringing Moscow back into the international community.
The major claims his information comes from a general lieutenant in GRU (one of Russia’s numerous military intelligence wings).
This man told him, he says, that around the time of the plane’s crash, Putin had been expressing his concerns to Kremlin allies about ‘possible losses of political influence’ in Syria and the Middle East. Putin, he went on, was worried about the fate of his traditional ally in the region, President al-Assad, given the West’s support for rebel groups trying to depose him.
A plan was allegedly hatched by officials within GRU to reverse Russia’s declining influence in the region and — as Major Karpichkov claims he was told by a senior source — to ‘kill two rabbits with one bullet’.
The aim was to get ‘at least silent international approval’ for massive military operations against Assad’s enemies under the guise of a campaign against the IS terrorists blamed for bombing the Russian passenger jet; and to bolster Russia’s multi-billion-pound weapons business with the Middle East.
This was all summarised in a dossier compiled by the former KGB spy: ‘In order to accomplish all these aims and to get Western consent to fighting Islamic State (which was, essentially, official support for keeping the Assad regime in power), the Kremlin desperately needed the kind of justification which would generate worldwide attention and full international sympathy and approval for military action.’
The major certainly knows all about the dark arts of espionage.
A graduate of a KGB academy in Minsk, he was taught how to kill with his bare hands as well as how to carry out other so-called ‘wet-jobs’ — the killing of a target without leaving any traces of evidence.
Major Karpichov used four passports to flee house arrest in Latvia before making it to London where he lives under an assumed name with his wife and family, however he claims to still have sources within the GRU.
He served in Russian intelligence for more than a decade, reaching the rank of KGB major and, as such, was privy to Kremlin secrets at a high level. He spent much of his career in the then Soviet republic of Latvia, where he specialised in counter-intelligence for the KGB.
When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, he stayed in newly independent Latvia, where he joined the country’s intelligence services. But he also remained on the books of the Kremlin, leaking information to his old bosses.
However, he was jailed for two months on weapons charges after a row over payments he claimed were owed to him by the KGB. The Russians, in turn, accused him of being involved in a massive fraud — part of the normal modus operandi of the Kremlin bringing criminal charges against enemies.
After he was placed under house arrest in Lativa, he used four false passports issued to him while he was a spy and fled the country, ending up in Britain a decade ago.
He says he retains high-level contacts in Russian intelligence circles, and that his dossier is an accurate representation of the truth about the worst terrorist atrocity involving an airliner since the terror attacks in New York on September 11, 2001.
The file states that Russian intelligence ‘geniuses’ in GRU outlined a plan to Putin and his closest aides to bomb a Russian airliner and blame it on Islamic extremists ‘to initiate enormous international hate towards ISIS and to create international sympathy to act on its own without any limits or reservations (for military action).’
The bomb, according to the claim, was designed to vilify ISIS while bringing sympathy to Russia
Once agreed, Major Karpichkov says, the operation was straightforward.
A specialist in ‘wet-jobs’ and other forms of espionage was despatched to Sharm el-Sheikh, where hundreds of thousands of Russians holiday each year to escape the cold. Posing as a fighter who was recuperating in the Red Sea after serving in Ukraine, the agent befriended a young Russian woman staying in the resort, and began a holiday romance.
When the woman was due to leave for St Petersburg, the Russian agent gave her a ‘present’ — asking her to deliver it to his parents at home in Russia — and escorted her through the notoriously lax security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport before she boarded the doomed Metrojet flight in the early hours of the morning.
The gift, says Major Karpichkov, was a bomb and the detonator used to ignite the explosives was known as an EHV-7, which is produced exclusively for special forces soldiers. The device itself looked like a piece of plumbing tube, which is primed to explode by an electrolyte ‘bath’ slowly corroding a metallic wire, which detonates the bomb once it is broken.
The explosive material was — sources add — cyclonite, an enormously powerful substitute for TNT.
It has been suggested that the bomb was most likely placed under the seat 30A or 31A. Plane records show that seat 30A was occupied by Nadezhda Bashakova, 77, from Volkhov in St Petersburg region, travelling with her daughter Margarita Simanova, 43, who sat in 30B. In seat 31A was Maria Ivleva, 15, also from St Petersburg region. Could this young woman have been be the unwitting carrier of the bomb? She was with her mother Marina Ivleva, 44, who occupied seat 31B. My sources say the bomb carrier was older, and sitting nearby.
The terror attack was designed to allow Russia international approval to bomb al-Assad's enemies in Syria.
However extraordinary, the allegations about the Sinai crash are not as far-fetched as they may seem. After all, Putin has allegedly used such a murderous method against his own people to generate support for war before. In 1999, during Putin’s first term as president after coming to power following a career as a KBG spy, he was accused of being behind the infamous bombings of four apartment blocks in Moscow as well as the cities of Buynaksk and Volgodonsk.
Within 24 hours of a series of explosions ripping through the apartment blocks, killing 307 civilians, including women and children, and injuring more than 1,700 more, Putin had blamed Islamic fighters in Chechnya — and launched a devastating air assault on the region.
According to Putin and his loyalists, the bombing was ordered by Islamist warlords, who were trying to wreak havoc among the Russian population. Yet, even as Putin was going to war against his enemies in Chechnya, three Kremlin spies were arrested by local police who accused them of planting the devices.
At the same time, another bomb plot was foiled and Russian police traced suspicious calls, in which ‘terrorists’ discussed the atrocity, to a number in Moscow. It turned out to belong to the FSB (state security).
Other suspects arrested for the bombing campaign were later released after showing their FSB official identification cards.
Even more damning, it transpired that a Russian official had expressed his condolences about the apartment building bombings in an official speech to a council meeting — three days before any of the explosions.
A special parliamentary commission was set up to investigate the plot in 2000. While Putin’s government refused to co-operate with the inquiry, two members of the commission were killed in apparent assassinations, and its senior lawyer was jailed.
However, critics claim that Karpichokov has made up the claims in order to embarrass the Kremlin.
The commission later blamed Islamists and Chechen separatists for the apartment bombings.
Yet Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy who fled to Britain and was later murdered by two Russian agents, also alleged — along with several other former Putin allies — that the apartments were blown up on the Kremlin’s orders to win public support for a war in Chechnya.
Soon after making these and other allegations about Putin, Litvinenko was poisoned by Russian agents who slipped polonium 210 — a deadly radioactive substance — into his tea during a meeting at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square. He died in agony several weeks later.
Not surprisingly, the Russians have furiously dismissed the claims by their former spy.