DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 22, 2016, 10:17 PM (IDT)
A special team set up by ISIS in its Syrian capital Raqqa planned the downing of EgyptAir Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo, which took the lives of 66 passengers and crew, DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources say in an exclusive report.
The information that an ISIS team ploting terrorist attacks has been operating in Raqqa for several weeks was known to American intelligence and counterterrorism services even before the downing of the Egyptian airliner, and warnings containing the information were sent to several Western European capitals, including Paris.
The warnings said ISIS is prepare a series of large-scale attacks in main European cities and airports with the start of the summer travel season.
That is the main reason why both Paris and Cairo said the plane was downed by an act of terror on May 19 as soon as it became clear that the airliner had crashed into the Mediterranean 288 kilometers north of Alexandria, even before the debris was found.
Our sources report that the US has decided to maintain its original plan, prepared before the downing of Flight 804, to impose a siege on Raqqa in an attempt to prevent terror cells from leaving the city and carrying out attacks.
On Saturday, May 21, US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of American forces in the Middle East, made a secret visit to Syria, the first of its kind by a senior US officer since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. Votel, who recently assumed command, visited Kurdish YPG militia forces and the US special forces troops at Rmelan airbase located 288 kilometers northeast of Raqqa. The American force is equipped with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters capable of attacking Raqqa within a relatively short period of time.
The purpose of Gen. Votel’s visit was to look into the viability of a US-Kurdish strike in retaliation for the downing of the Egyptian plane. It should be assumed that US President Barack Obama will need to make a decision on the operation in the coming hours.
Over the weekend, ISIS, which is aware of the American plans, enabled citizens to leave Raqqa if they wished to do so. ISIS does not want to have to worry about the civilian population if there is a US-Kurdish attack or siege.
In the meantime, Washington and Cairo are stalling for time while considering their options.
That is the reason why US and Egyptian officials, and even Egyptian PresidentAbdel Fattah al-Sisi, continued to claim on May 22 that more time is needed to determine the cause of the crash.
It was also the reason why, soon after the air disaster, it was claimed that there was no distress call or any other message regarding a problem with the plane.
But two days after the crash, on May 21, following the recovery of debris and parts of the bodies of the passengers, there were suddenly reports that they signals from the plane of smoke in two places in the aircraft.
Investigators say it is still not clear what caused the smoke, whether a fire or fires broke out on the plane, or whether the fire eventually caused the crash, but al the signs point to an internal explosion.
DEBKAfile sources report that both Paris and Cairo believe that the crash was caused by a new type of small time bomb, or several of them, that were smuggled into the plane and planted by Charles de Gaulle airport workers loyal to ISIS.
The sources point out that ISIS explosives experts specialize in building very small devices that can be smuggled onto planes. A device within a Coca-Cola can downed a Russian Airbus A321 over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, killing all 224 passengers and crew.
Our sources also report that investigators of the latest crash believe that just as ISIS blew up the Russian plane in retaliation for Moscow’s intervention in Syria, the downing of the Egyptian plane is linked to the entry by Egyptian special forces into Libya during the last few weeks to take action against ISIS forces.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that an Egyptian special force is operating with a US elite units against ISIS targets in eastern Libya near the port city of Tobruk.