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U.S. Intelligence Suggests Bomb Brought Down Metrojet; George H.W. Bush Blasts Cheney, Rumsfeld in New Book; New Books Allege Vatican Mired in Scandal; Egyptian President Meets with British Prime Minister in London; Cause of Metrojet Crash Not Yet Known; NASA to Hire New Astronauts for Mars Journey. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired November 5, 2015 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hi, there, and welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.
Well, our top story this hour, the question dividing world leaders.
Did a bomb bring down a Russian plane in Egypt?
Well, as the crash investigation continues, the Egyptian president has just left 10 Downing Street after meeting with the British prime minister. Now
the two countries do not see eye to eye on the crash at this moment. Egyptian officials are rejecting British assertions that the plane may have
been brought down a bomb.
Here's what U.K. leader David Cameron said earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: We don't know for certain that it was a terrorist bomb. There is still an investigation taking place
in Egypt. We need to see the results of that investigation.
The reason we've acted before that is because of intelligence and information we had that gave us the concern that it was -- more likely than
not, it was a terrorist bomb.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: David Cameron there just a short time ago.
Here is where the other major players stand on the bomb theory at this point. U.S. officials tell CNN there is intelligence suggesting ISIS or
its affiliates put a bomb on the plane and that is partially based on monitoring of the militants' internal communications.
Also a Middle East official briefed on intelligence matters says it appears likely a bomb was placed on the aircraft. But Egyptian officials say there
is no evidence supporting the theory that a bomb took the flight down and that the country is committed to a full and thorough investigation.
Also, the head of Russia's air transport agency says it will take months before investigators can begin to draw conclusions. The Kremlin is
dismissing any claims about the cause of the crash as speculation.
Well, that is what we know. A lot of differing viewpoints. Let's go to Sharm el-Sheikh now, where Ian Lee is standing by live for us.
Hi, there. We heard all those different viewpoints but what's very clear is that the Egyptian government is reacting strongly to these claims that
it is a bomb.
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Robyn. They are urging people to be patient and wait for the end of this investigation. And it makes
sense for the Egyptians. They want to see this investigation seen through. Especially they don't want people to jump to conclusions that it was a bomb
because that could hurt the tourism industry.
But the Russians are also agreeing with them, saying that it is too soon to jump to some sort of conclusions, that this should be a thorough
investigation although the United States intelligence officials as well as the U.K. have said that they believe it is likely to be a bomb.
I was traveling through the airport today arriving. It was fairly empty. You didn't see a lot of people coming in and out. You could see some
planes on the tarmac, waiting identify by to take passengers back home.
I talked to two people, though, there waiting. They said they were frustrated that they weren't getting enough information from the airlines
about what was happening, about how they could get home. They were also looking for different ways to make the journey back, whether it be taking
another airline or going via a different route.
But we know that that U.K. security team was here in Sharm. They were going over procedures. I was told by an official that everything was going
well, that everyone was cooperating to make sure that security was tight.
And we hear that possibly as early tomorrow some of those stranded holiday makers may be able to return home.
CURNOW: OK. That was going to be my next question.
Do we know how many British tourists are stranded?
And, of course, many more perhaps because I just got a wire here from Lufthansa, saying they are suspending flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Do we know the numbers of people here?
LEE: Right now there is about 3,500 British nationals that are stranded here in Sharm el-Sheikh. But that number -- as long as these flights
aren't taking off, that number is expected to grow because there are roughly 20,000 British nationals here in Sharm.
And as their holidays run down, run out, they are going to be looking towards returning as well. The U.K. embassy does have people on the ground
here, helping to assist to get them back.
But you also have Lufthansa, who is not flying back, either. You have other airlines. So until this really is resolved, until everyone feels
that security measures are up to par, you are likely to get a growing number of holiday makers who are extending their vacations.
CURNOW: OK. Ian Lee in Sharm el-Sheikh, thanks so much --
CURNOW: -- for that update. Appreciate it.
Well, as we mentioned earlier, a Middle East source told CNN it is highly possible that a bomb brought down the plane. Our international diplomatic
editor, Nic Robertson, has more details on that and more on the investigation from St. Petersburg in Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: These are not just U.S. and U.K. reports here. Also a source I talked to in the Middle East,
who's briefed on intelligence issues there, has also been saying exactly the same, that there is quite a possibility that a bomb was put aboard the
Why is the Kremlin so cautious?
They say because they are following the protocols and the procedures of investigations into the air crashes. That is the country where the
airplane crash is leads the investigation; that is Egypt. Everything has to be done through the Egyptian authorities.
That said, the federal aviation authority, the top aviation body in Russia, has said that it will investigate the possibility of this being a terrorist
action, that they will search for explosive residue and explosives impact on both debris and passengers.
They say they will also look at the security of Sharm el-Sheikh airport to see if it was possible that that security was circumvented somehow by
somebody putting a bomb on board the aircraft.
So on the one hand they are not ruling it out but you do have President Putin's spokesmen this morning saying very, very clearly, in response to
this latest information, that if the British and Americans have more information, that they should put it forward.
He did say it was too soon to rule out whether or not this was a terrorist act or whether something else brought the aircraft down. But there is a
very strong line coming from the Pentagon -- coming from the Kremlin, rather.
And they are saying very clearly that everyone should stay away from speculation at this time because, until the investigation is complete, then
the information isn't clear.
CURNOW: Nic Robertson reporting there.
Upward developments coming out of London. I want to take us to Downing Street, where Clarissa Ward is standing by.
Hi, there, Clarissa. We've just seen those photos of what looked like the end of the meeting between the British and Egyptian leaders. That must
have been quite an awkward conversation.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Robyn. The timing of this, really incredibly awkward. Egypt's Abdul Fattah al-Sisi arrived here
yesterday. He was coming for a three-day state visit and they were supposed to be focused on topics like trade and security.
But, of course, this is now very much topping the agenda. They met for about an hour and a half. And we will be hearing very shortly some
statements they made at the end of that meeting.
But before President Sisi arrived, the British prime minister, David Cameron, did take a moment to brief cameras after his meeting with his --
an emergency meeting that he held with the government.
He said that while there is no absolute certainty about whether a bomb brought down this passenger jet, he said it is, quote, "more likely than
not." He would not be drawn into conversation, Robyn, about whether or not ISIS was definitely behind this attack, if indeed it was an attack.
And he also said that he had put in a call to President Putin to give further clarification on the British government's decision to suspend
temporarily all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
The question now is, what happens to the roughly 20,000 British citizens who are currently stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh?
We believe that beginning tomorrow empty planes will be flying to the tourist resort to try to begin the process of trying to get some of them
home -- Robyn.
CURNOW: I just want to go back to David Cameron's comments, any other information that you're hearing.
Do we know why the U.K. came out ahead of everybody else on this, surprising the Russians and the Egyptians?
And in that press release yesterday. Downing Street referred to new information that let the government to think it was an explosive device.
I mean, do we have any sense of what that information is?
WARD: Well, Robyn, we really, really don't. The British government, much like U.S. officials, have been really circumspect about where this
intelligence is coming from. And they have also couched it in very cautious language. They keep saying, "more likely than not," or" it is a
significant possibility," really refraining from making any categorical or definitive statements here.
But at the end of the day what we've heard from the British prime minister is that the security of British citizens has to come first.
And even if they don't have a definitive answer as to what exactly brought down that passenger jet, they are not going to put British lives at risk
before taking a measure like this one and stopping all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh until they get better security procedures introduced on the
ground in that airport.
CURNOW: OK. And we'll keep our viewers up to date on all of those.
CURNOW: And keep dry, please, Clarissa, coming to us there from 10 Downing Street.
Just ahead at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, the first funerals are being held, as Russia mourns the victims of Saturday's Metrojet crash in Egypt.
And former U.S. President George H.W. Bush has some sharp words for his son's top presidential aides. What a new biography is revealing. All that
CURNOW: Rescue workers are still searching for survivors in the rubble in a collapsed factory in Lahore, Pakistan. At least 23 people were killed
when the four-story building fell down on Wednesday. But Reuters News Agency says more than 100 survivors have been pulled out of the wreckage.
Many used mobile phones to call family members, who then alerted rescue workers. Some of the injured say the factory owner ignored advice to stop
construction on the building after last week's earthquake.
Myanmar's pro-democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, says if her party wins an upcoming election, her position will be, quote, "above the president."
She made the comment in a news conference on Thursday. Unclear what she means exactly. Under the country's constitution, Suu Kyi is currently
barred from that role of president. Now Sunday's election is being touted as the freest in decades and Suu Kyi's party is expected to do well at the
And in an upcoming biography of George H.W. Bush, the former U.S. president makes critical assessments of some of the top officials from his son's
Now the senior Bush reportedly said George W. Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney, had carved out his own empire in the White House and that Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld served his son, quote, "badly."
"Destiny and Power" will be released next week. CNN's John Berman has more on what we're learning about the book.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Bush biographer writes Bush says of Dick Cheney --
BERMAN: -- he was "Just iron-ass. His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our
way in the Middle East."
Also the elder Bush goes after his son's Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, calling him, "an arrogant fellow who served the president badly."
The book quotes him as saying, "There is a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He's more kick-ass and take names, take
Now George W. Bush responded to his father's pretty harsh words about his administration.
According to "The New York Times," he says, quote, "I disagree with his characterization of what was going on. I made the decisions. This was my
Now as for the former vice president, Dick Cheney, he responded on FOX News. I think we have that sound. We'll play that.
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I fully admit that, after 9/11, I saw my role as being this tough and aggressive as
needed to be to carry out the president's policy, 43's policy, to make sure we didn't get hit again.
CURNOW: Well that was John Berman reporting there. The book will be released on Tuesday.
Two other books that are causing some controversy, these ones about the Vatican, saying that they are mired -- that the Vatican is mired in
financial scandal and they say these books that Pope Francis faces an uphill battle to reform the Roman Catholic Church. "Via Crucis," or
"Merchants in the Temple" details a leaked conversation between the pope and the Vatican's financial oversight committee.
Now the book claims the pope complained about inflated bills from contractors, among other expenditures. He's quoted as saying, "Something
isn't right. We have to get this problem under control."
The Vatican is pursuing possible legal action against the authors of these two books.
Stay with us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Coming up, mourning the victims of the Metrojet crash. The first funerals for the 224 people
killed in the disaster are starting to take place in Russia. Our correspondent in Moscow joins me next.
CURNOW: Welcome back.
Well, the first funerals are being held for victims of Saturday's plane crash in Egypt; 224 people were killed, most of them Russian tourists
heading home from a holiday from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Matthew Chance has more from Moscow.
Hi, there, Matthew. You have been talking all week about the real sense of grief across Russia. But each of these funerals underscoring the
individual tragedies here.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, they are very, very sad obviously and very grim events that are taking place
The first couple of funerals have already been carried out, one of them a woman called Nina Lushchenko, a 60-year-old canteen worker from a school in
a small town called Veliky Novgorod, which is between Moscow and St. Petersburg. She had gone to Egypt, obviously with everybody else on that
aircraft, for a bit of winter sun at the start of what is a very long winter months here in Russia but, of course, never returned. The family
have come out, friends, relatives.
And that town actually has five people from it that were on that aircraft. And there has been a couple of funerals that have, as I say, that have
The big national memorial for this event, for this catastrophe, is going to take place on Sunday. It is in Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg. And
there we are expecting to see obviously a lot of people who will go there. There will be outpourings of grief and, of course, a lot of tributes to the
224 people who lost their lives -- Robyn.
CURNOW: And Matthew, let's just also talk about the Russian pushback that this is a bomb. Russians say this is all too premature to speculate about
CHANCE: That is exactly what they are saying, repeatedly, in fact, particularly with the mood from the United Kingdom and the word from the
United States that it could have been a bomb as well. This is something they have rejected.
The head of Russia's federal aviation agency has said, look, we have to wait for the outcome. And the investigation, by the way, could take months
before it is concluded. So there is a lot of detail that has to be worked through, a lot of painstaking forensic work that has to be undertaken.
So it is way too early as far as Russian officials are concerned for anyone to be speculating and making judgments.
It was something that was emphasized in a telephone call which has taken place today, over the last couple of hours, between Vladimir Putin, the
Russian president, and David Cameron, the British prime minister.
We've had the readout from the Russian side of that telephone call. And the Kremlin says that Vladimir Putin stressed that the assessment of the
causes of the crash should be based on data that becomes available in the course of investigation, so Vladimir Putin saying we need to base this on
actual facts, not on speculation.
CURNOW: Indeed. Some diplomatic -- hard diplomatic conversations I think also being had. Thanks, much, Matthew Chance from Moscow. Appreciate it.
I'm being told by my colleagues that -- there we go. David Cameron and the Egyptian leader are about to hold a press conference after their meeting at
10 Downing Street.
Let's listen in.
ABDUL FATTAH AL-SISI, PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): -- with everything we've got, the security at the airport, to strengthen the
security, safety of the travelers.
We are also committed to then state their traffic and flight as soon as possible the British tourists that spend their holidays in Sharm el-Sheikh
and for the Egyptians as well, who would love to welcome them here.
As well, about a million British tourists spend their holidays, take their holidays and travel to Sharm every year, we understand the importance of
their visit to Sharm el-Sheikh. It's for our mutual interest to handle this affair well and take this situation back to its normal status.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for, Mr. Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen.
AL-SISI (through translator): Please allow me to present my thanks and appreciation for the prime minister for his positive status.
AL-SISI: -- atmosphere of this visit.
AL-SISI (through translator): And for the generosity of his reception as well.
AL-SISI: -- hospitality and the welcome we have received from (INAUDIBLE).
AL-SISI (through translator): Also I would like to appreciate my.
AL-SISI: -- to visit your friendly country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
AL-SISI (through translator): Where I met so many personalities that showed their.
AL-SISI: I have met a number of dignitaries, who've voiced their interest in making this visit that I'm making --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is someone interpreting --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
AL-SISI: I'm confident our bilateral cooperation proves mutually beneficial.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
AL-SISI: My visit to the U.K. clearly reflects the strong relations between the two countries and (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
CURNOW: And there to Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president. I think we're just trying to sort out the translation issues there.
But either way, just before that in the last few moments, he said he was committed to the safety of British tourists in Egypt, also to Egyptians.
He mentioned a million tourists travel to Egypt every year, that it was mutually beneficial for Britain and Egypt to protect them.
And this, of course, comes as there is a bit of a diplomatic dispute about what was the cause of that plane crash. The Egyptians emphatically have
been saying it wasn't a bomb.
But the U.K. coming out, surprising a number of people, a number of countries yesterday, saying that they believe, they suspected that the
possible cause of this crash was an explosive device.
So this has been a very awkward meeting, according to our Clarissa Ward, who is outside 10 Downing Street. That meeting is now over. This press
conference was taped. This is tape turn and it happened moments ago.
And, of course, as we watch these pictures, it is important to remember that the investigation continues in the Sinai.
And we understand also now that we have the translation back. So let's listen in.
AL-SISI (through translator): It is important in this regard to stress that the world needs now more than ever to unify peoples and cultures
against the ideas and rhetoric of bigotry, extremism, hate and denial of the other, being the ingredients of a fertile soil of terrorism,
detrimental as it is to the pillars and values of societies.
Your Excellency, one more time, let me, on behalf of the Egyptian delegation, to express our pleasure to visit your friendly country.
I thank you for the hospitality and for the positive atmosphere. I look forward to the outcome of our talks. And I'm quite confident that it will
bring about all of the concord and agreement that we had in our views during our talks with bilateral all the regional levels.
No doubt we will come out from -- we have come out from these talks with better understanding and deeper awareness of our respective stance and
views and on our perspectives on the various issues as well as probing ways to give more means to solve these --
AL-SISI (through translator): -- and grant more momentum to the Egyptian- British relations since we have arrived in your country. There is a good sense of a clear political will to enhance and upgrade our relations. I
hope that we will contribute together to meeting the aspirations of our peoples.
Thank you, your Excellency.
CAMERON: Thank you very much, Mr. President. We've got two questions, one from Chris Shipp (ph) of ITV, is going to go first.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
QUESTION: No other country has taken the decision we have to suspend flights.
Why is U.K. intelligence so sure that there was an explosive device on board this plane, when even the Russians, whose plane this was, have not
Do we have some intelligence they do not have?
Or do you think the Russians are withholding some information?
And a question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
QUESTION: And a question, please, to Mr. President, you have reason today to be unhappy with the British response.
Firstly, you were not informed of the decision to suspend flights and, secondly, the U.K. now appears to be suggesting that Egypt cannot run a
secure airport in Sharm el-Sheikh and, as I understand, it is an airport that you think is very secure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
AL-SISI (through translator): Allow me to answer the question, the part of the question that was addressed to me of the question.
I just want to say that 10 months ago we were asked by our British friends to send teams to Sharm el-Sheikh airport to make sure that all the security
procedures there are well enough and provide the adequate safety and security for the passengers.
And we understood their concern because they are really interested in the safety and security of their nationals be it going to places to tourist
attractions in Egypt and other places in the world.
We have received the teams -- received the teams. We have cooperated with them. And they checked the security actions. They were happy with that.
And we are still ready to cooperate in this particular regard, not necessarily on one airport but with all airports. This is -- we understand
the importance of this.
And even after the crash of the Russian airplane, there was a telephone call with His Excellency, the prime minister, and we agreed on more
coordination for the -- more coordination on checking the procedures taken.
And I share complete understanding of His Excellency's concern about the safety and security of his people. We --
AL-SISI (through translator): -- responded immediately to the demands. We received the team to Sharm el-Sheikh airport. And I say here that we are
completely ready to cooperate with all our friends to make sure that the security measures taken at our airport provide the safety and security
needed for the people who come to us.
AL-SISI (through translator): As a matter of fact, I have found complete understanding and appreciation of the Egyptian efforts from His Excellency,
the prime minister, and how we are aligning and coordinating our measures together.
And this is a good mutual understanding. And we also talked about the actions needed to make sure that this will not have any negative
ramification on the future tourism in Egypt and that in the soonest time possible, we restore the movement of tourists, of British tourists to
Egypt, those who come to Egypt to enjoy that and those who are -- who we are very happy to receive them in our country.
CAMERON: Thank you, Chris.
Thank you, Mr. President.
I completely agree with what the president has just said. We've had some excellent discussions today, not only about what Egypt has done in the past
to increase its own security and the security of tourists but also the further steps that can be taken today that will help to make sure that our
British citizens can return home after their holidays in Sharm.
To answer your questions very directly, you asked whether we are the only countries taking action. Actually, the United States has changed its
travel advice and there are some other European countries taking some similar action to what we have done.
But my role is to act in the right way to keep British citizens safe and secure and to put their security first. I act on the basis of intelligence
that I receive. I act on the basis of advice that I get.
Of course, I cannot be sure. My experts cannot be sure that it was a terrorist bomb that brought down that Russian plane. But if the
intelligence is and the judgment is that that is a more likely-than-not outcome, then I think it is right to act in the way that I did.
Now I understand that it is obviously concerning for those people who are in Sharm el-Sheikh, who ought to be home by now and they want to come home.
And, of course, I feel deeply for those looking forward to a good holiday, who would have flown off today into the sunshine, who won't be doing that,
who had their holidays canceled.
And, of course, I have great concern for our friends and partners in Egypt, who want to have a strong tourism industry and who welcome a million
British people every year.
But the most important thing of all is that those people in Sharm el-Sheikh can come home safely. And that's why the extra measures need to be taken
today. So I think we have done the right thing. We've had very good discussions today. I'm sure we'll be able to bring those British holiday
makers home soon because of the level of cooperation between our two governments.
And more than that, I'm sure that we'll be able, over time, to take the necessary actions so we can restore the holiday-making route from Britain
to Sharm el-Sheikh and vice versa.
So I'm convinced we will be able to do that. But as I say, any job is to act on the basis of the intelligence, making the judgment that, if it is
the case -- we can't be sure. But it is the case that it is more likely than not that a terrorist bomb on that plane, then my job is to take the
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister --
CAMERON: Please. Next question.
QUESTION: Many people in the Middle East consider that the British policy is responsible for creating ISIS. Once by the military intervention in
Iraq and Libya that paved the way for this fanatical and terroristic group to prevail and once by harboring the leaders and advocates of Islamic
Don't you think that there is a need to reconsider your stand and to review your policy concerning terrorists and fanatical groups without any
exception, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the mother of all terroristic groups?
CAMERON: Well, first of all, I think those people --
CAMERON: -- who say that the problem of Islamic extremism and the problem of Islamist extremist violence was caused either by Iraq or by action in
Libya or elsewhere, the fundamental problem they have to confront is this, that one of the biggest acts of Islamist extremist violent terrorism was,
of course, the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, which preceded those events in the case of Iraq by two years, in the case of Libya by many more
years. That came first.
And I would argue that the problem of extremist Islamism and violence has been a growing problem. And it's a problem which is effectively a battle
that's taking place within Islam. I know and you know that Islam is a religion of peace, a religion followed by millions in our world as a guide
to their life and a source of faith and a source of strength.
But there is a minority of a minority, as it were, that have taken the tenets of this religion and poisoned them and turned them into a perverse
narrative that justifies suicide bombs and killing and maiming and all of the things that IS are doing, so-called IS are doing in Syria and Iraq and,
indeed that Islamist extremist terrorists are doing in other countries of the world.
And it's this narrative of Islamist extremism that we should be trying to combat, rather than thinking that it was caused in some way by the actions
of others. As I say, the Twin Towers, the actions of Al Qaeda, that happened many years before the events you are referring to.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, what we do in Britain is we judge people by whether they are inside the law or outside the law. And if people are
fomenting violence, then they are breaking the law and the law should come down on them. And in terms of our review into the Muslim Brotherhood,
which we discussed today, that will be published later this year. And I think you will see, as you are already seeing in Britain, a much more
robust approach against extremism, against extremism of all kinds and against those extremists that stop just short of endorsing violence but,
nonetheless, those extremists whose world view encourages people to pursue a path of violence.
And that is very much our approach here in the U.K.
I think we're -- sorry, do you want to translate all of that?
Yes. Sorry, I should have stopped halfway through. That was rather a long answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
CURNOW: OK. There you heard it, some frank assessments there by the Egyptian and British leaders, the president and the prime minister. You
heard David Cameron there saying extremism is a growing threat and he defended the extra measures Britain has put in place in Sharm el-Sheikh
after the downing of that Russian jet.
Also we heard there from Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, saying that he had a complete understanding of the U.K.'s security concerns.
We'll have much more on this story after the break. I'm Robyn Curnow. You're watching CNN.
CURNOW: Welcome back. You are watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK.
ISIS-affiliated militants have claimed responsibility for the Metrojet crash.
What does all that mean?
Well, we're joined in London now by a terrorism expert, Sajjan Gohel. He's the international security director at the Asia Pacific Foundation.
Thanks so much for joining us here.
First off, do you think this was terror-related?
SAJJAN GOHEL, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR, ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Well, Robyn, we still need more information to come out definitively. I
still think the investigation that's being conducted in Egypt has been taking longer than expected.
What we can go by is bits and pieces that the British and American governments are putting out. And I believe that, from what I understand,
it is based on two elements.
One is electronic chatter that they have come across information that ISIS' affiliate in Egypt, known as Wilayat Sinai, has been climbing
responsibility. They have been discussing things.
The other aspect is that, in a few days' time is the one-year anniversary in which this group swore allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Baker al-
Baghdadi. And the concern was it there could be another attempted plot against the aviation industry, which is why they have taken these measures.
But again we still need to wait to see what comes out definitively from the investigation in Egypt.
CURNOW: Indeed. I mean, on CNN, some of our aviation experts have said, listen, there is still huge possibility this is some sort of
infrastructural problem on the plane. So that is important to remember. And to note, we do not have definitive understanding of what's coming out
of that investigation.
That said, if this was a terror attack, is it too easy to blame ISIS or one of the ISIS affiliates, even if they have claimed responsibility?
I mean, is it too convenient?
Other groups in the Sinai that have the capabilities, the motive?
GOHEL: Keep in mind that what's taking place in Sinai right now is a very nasty insurgency where Wilayat Sinai are fighting the Egyptian military
literally on a daily basis. There are incidents going on which don't necessarily attract enough attention.
But every week there are assassination attempts against military figures, against local politicians; in July, the group carried out a coordinated,
simultaneous attack in the Sinai against various outposts of the Egyptian military.
There are other groups certainly. But they aren't able to operate on the level that, say, this group could.
Remember Egypt was once the ideological home of Al Qaeda. But the Egyptian government, over the last few years, has dismantled that infrastructure.
The only entity that still remains in Egypt is the ISIS affiliate.
CURNOW: And I'm just reading a report written by one of our colleagues, Paul Cruickshank. And he says, if this is, you know, an ISIS attack, this,
in a way, underscores or suggests a new wave, a new model.
GOHEL: Well, Paul makes a very important point and it sets a number of dangerous precedents.
If this is an act of terrorism, then this is the first successful attack against the aviation industry since 9/11. Al Qaeda, its affiliate, Al
Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have tried on numerous occasions to carry out attacks on the civilian airliners across the world. Many of those
plots either failed or disrupted.
If this is terrorism, then it has succeeded. It's also a huge level in jump of sophistication. Because up until now, ISIS has been focusing on
carrying out targeted assassinations, focusing on individuals, part of the visualization of terrorism. To carry out an attack from an airliner
leaving a very well protected airport in Sharm el-Sheikh illustrates that they now have support at major transportation hubs.
And that is extremely worrying.
CURNOW: Indeed, really worrying. And, as you say, concerns of just how safe airports are.
Sajjan Gohel, thank you so much for your analysis. Thanks for joining us.
CURNOW: You are watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK. There will be much more after this short break. Stay with us.
CURNOW: Welcome back.
Well, how's this for a job description?
NASA is putting out the call for some new astronauts for the journey to Mars, posting the notice on Instagram and Twitter, using the
#BeAnAstronaut. NASA is looking for qualified U.S. citizens with a wide variety of backgrounds and they will begin accepting applications next
To find out what it takes, I want to bring in current NASA astronaut, Terry Virts, who joins me now via Skype from Houston, Texas.
Hi, there, Terry. Actually I think the last time I spoke to you, you were actually in the International Space Station at zero gravity. So it's great
to speak to you back on Earth.
This is really exciting for NASA, applying for applications for new astronauts.
Who does and who would have the right stuff?
TERRY VIRTS, ASTRONAUT: Well, it is a great time for NASA. I can remember applying myself and how exciting that was. And good to talk to you again,
Robyn. I'm sorry I can't float and do flips and things like that this time.
CURNOW: I'm very disappointed.
VIRTS: But, you know, we're looking for people with a wide variety and diversity of backgrounds. My background is as a fighter pilot and test
pilot. And a lot of astronaut candidates have aviation experience. But we have engineers, doctors, scientists, people with all different types of
CURNOW: And what's interesting here is that, you know, the call went out on social media. And the last time I checked, this job application had
141,000 likes on Instagram. It is certainly a new beginning in all sorts of ways.
What this is about, though, is specifically NASA saying preparing for that next stage, the journey to Mars.
VIRTS: Well, Mars is, really, I think, the consensus goal for the 21st century. We understand that Mars is a place that's most like Earth in our
solar system. There is water on Mars. There is a very thin atmosphere on Mars. And although it is very harsh environment and really, really
difficult to get there, it is something I think that we can do as humans in this century.
And it shows the most promise of all the places we can go in the relative near future.
CURNOW: What does this also tell us about the U.S. space program, which, you know, has been sort of fairly dormant in a way?
You had to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz to get up to the International - -
CURNOW: -- Space Station. This is also about the development of more NASA technology to take astronauts from U.S. soil up there.
VIRTS: It is and NASA has been absolutely been extremely involved in the space station. We just had our 15th anniversary of continuous humans on
board the space station. And we've been flying the space shuttle program; did end in 2011. But we're currently developing several American capsules
to take people to the space station and also beyond Low Earth orbit.
And we're developing several rockets. We've been very involved in maintaining and operating the space station for science. So things have
been very busy here at NASA, maybe not as much in the news without the space shuttle launches but we've been very busy and very involved in human
CURNOW: OK. Well, great to speak to you and we'll be interested to see who actually applies and who, of course, gets the job. But thanks so much,
Terry Virts, astronaut.
CURNOW: Well, you are watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK. That is it for us for this hour. I will be back, though, in just over another hour for
another edition of the INTERNATIONAL DESK. In the meantime, have a good day.