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Russia probes jet crash terror link

Grieving relatives
Grieving relatives arrive at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport  

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian investigations into the Sibir Airlines plane crash that killed more than 70 people are concentrating on terrorism as the possible cause.

The captain of a ship taking part in the recovery mission in the Black Sea says pieces of the pilot's cabin appear to have three bullet holes in them, CNN has learned.

A number of theories have been put forward for the crash, including an act of terror and that it was accidentally shot down by a missile fired during a Ukrainian military exercise.

The Tu-154 plunged out of the sky on Thursday while en route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk, Siberia while carrying 77 passengers and crew.

The assistant director of the Russian State Coordinating Rescue Centre, Nikolai Burkov, confirmed to CNN the ship's captain, Nikolai Tsiplakov, had relayed to him the bullet holes message.

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But Burkov added forensic experts would need to examine the door to confirm whether the holes were caused by bullets and that no concrete conclusions could be drawn before then.

The Russian Prosecutor General's office invoked a criminal investigation under a legal article dealing with terrorism.

Reuters news agency reported that the article, under which the investigation is invoked may be changed later but usually reflects the strongest theory being followed by investigators.

Alexander Zdanovich, spokesman for Russia's Federal Security Service, told The Associated Press news agency: "Against the background of the fight against international terrorism, naturally this version must be considered."

But U.S. officials have said they believe the plane was downed accidentally by an SA-5 surface-to-air missile fired from a shore battery during a large-scale Ukrainian military exercise.

Ukraine denied the U.S. allegation saying the missiles being used during the exercise only had a range of 10km (six miles) and that the Tu-154 was about 300km (180 miles) from the training area. UK military analyst Jane's said, though, the SA-5 would normally have a range of 300km.

Israel, which operates some of the world's most stringent aviation safety measures, suspended for four hours all takeoffs from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv immediately after news of the crash for fear it may have been a terrorist attack.

Tu-154: The 29th air disaster involving the plane since its inception in 1968  

Israel has not put forward any theory for the crash except to say it has no evidence of it being an act of terror but that it was also not ruling out the possibility.

Israeli planes will be sent to the crash area to aid the investigation.

At the crash site -- in the Black Sea about 200km off the Russian coastal city of Adler which is near the Georgian border -- the first bodies have been recovered and were being taken to the Black Sea port of Sochi.

Relatives of the victims were also flying to Sochi to identify the bodies.

The plane, on a weekly charter flight, was carrying 77 people with the majority of the 66 passengers believed to have been from Israel, when it crashed.

Russian investigators have told Interfax news agency they may not be able to recover the plane's flight recorders, which are lying in deep water.


• TU-154
• Aviation Safety Network: Tupelov 154 incidents
• Jane's

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