- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2016

The Pentagon is not ruling out a terrorist attack as the cause for the downing of an Egypt Air jet over the Mediterranean Thursday, as U.S. forces ramp up their efforts in the search for wreckage from the doomed flight.

U.S. Navy commanders have sent in two more EP-3 Orion surveillance aircraft, based at Naval Air Station Sigonella in southern Italy, to assist Greek and Egyptian authorities in their search for remnants of the aircraft, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Wednesday.

The planes conducted two surveillance flights over the crash site, 180 miles north of the Egyptian coastline, and would continue those operations for as long as necessary, Capt. Davis told reporters at the Pentagon.

A single Orion aircraft was deployed Tuesday from the Navy’s Patrol Squadron Four, based at Sigonella, shortly after Cairo confirmed the plane traveling from Charles De Gaulle airport in France had gone down.

Egyptian officials claimed the crash was more likely the result of a terrorist attack than some kind of equipment failure.

“If you analyze the situation properly … having a terror attack is higher than the possibility” than the commercial airliner going down due to technical malfunction or pilot error, Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Sherif Fathi, told reporters in Cairo on Tuesday.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook refused to comment Tuesday on Mr. Fahti’s suggestions the aircraft was the victim of a terror attack, but noted that the possibility could not be ruled out.

“There’s nothing we can rule in, nothing we can rule out,” Mr. Cook said. “This is still early in the investigation … but we have really nothing really at this point that leads us to any conclusions.”

Aside from the aerial surveillance support being provided by American naval forces in the region, other imagery and signals intelligence — such as satellites and high-altitude reconnaissance systems — could also be pulled into search efforts, as well as possibly providing insight as to what took down the ill-fated airliner.

“We have a variety of assets and personnel in the region. And we have a host of capabilities. And we will be reviewing everything possible that could be helpful in the course of this investigation,” Mr. Cook said Tuesday.

But Capt. Davis declined to comment on how those military intelligence assets are being leveraged as part of the search and investigation into the cause of the crash, citing the classified nature of those systems. However, he said U.S. surveillance assets hadn’t thus far provided any indication for the cause of the crash.

As Egyptian and Greek investigators continue to piece together the moments leading up to the crash, American commanders have directed the Navy’s 6th fleet to coordinate search efforts with the Greek-led Joint Rescue Coordination Center.

Aside from the two additional Navy surveillance aircraft, neither Athens or Cairo has requested any of the American warships stationed in the Mediterranean to assist with recovery operations.

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