U.S. officials express growing confidence bomb downed Russian pl - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

U.S. officials express growing confidence bomb downed Russian plane

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(CNN) -- The U.S. appears to be increasingly confident that a terrorist bomb brought down the Russian passenger jet that broke apart over Egypt.

The growing belief was indicated by several senior U.S. officials in the intelligence, military and national security community who spoke to CNN on Saturday.

One official said it was "99.9% certain," another said it was "likely."

The remarks are stronger than those made by President Barack Obama on Thursday when he said there was "a possibility" a bomb was on Metrojet Flight 9268, which disintegrated over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, killing all 224 people aboard.

The view also contrasts with the cautious stance taken by Egyptian officials, who are in charge of the main investigation into the air crash and insist that no conclusion has been reached yet.

"All the scenarios are out on the table," Ayman al-Muqaddam, the head of the investigation, told reporters Saturday. "We don't know what happened exactly."

ISIS chatter analyzed

The belief that a bomb was most likely to blame centers to a large extent on British and U.S. intercepts of communications after the crash from the Islamic militant group ISIS' affiliate in Sinai to ISIS operatives in Syria, according to officials.

The Sinai affiliate has publicly claimed responsibility for downing the Russian jet, which was flying from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, but so far hasn't explained how it was done. That's prompted questions about the claim among some observers, considering ISIS' tendency to often publicize its acts for propaganda value.

The ISIS messages monitored by British and American intelligence agencies are separate from the group's public claims, a U.S. official has said.

The two Western countries have been analyzing the specific language in the chatter to determine to what extent the operatives were talking about the type of bomb and detonator used, and whether that language was a true representation of what happened, one official told CNN.

Several officials said it's the specificity of the chatter that has directly contributed to the U.S. and British view that a bomb was most likely used.

Talks over possible FBI role in investigation

But officials in Washington and London don't have all the pieces of the puzzle at their disposal. Neither country is directly involved in the Egyptian investigation into the crash or has physical evidence from it to examine.

Talks between the United States, Egypt and Russia could result in the FBI providing some experts, particularly bomb technicians, to assist in the investigation, according to a U.S. official.

Muqaddam, the head of the investigation, said Egyptian authorities have not been provided any information or evidence tied to reports suggesting that a bomb took down the flight. He urged the sources of the reports to pass along related evidence to Egyptian investigators.

The investigation does include experts from Egypt, Russia, France, Germany and Ireland -- countries that are connected in various ways to the aircraft that crashed, an Airbus A321-200.

Noise heard at end of cockpit recording

The TV station France 2 reported Friday that European investigators who analyzed the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder from Flight 9268 are saying the crash is not an accident.

The investigators said the cockpit voice recorder indicates an explosion, and the flight data recorder shows the blast was not accidental, according to France 2, which is a CNN affiliate.

Muqaddam, however, was more circumspect in his comments Saturday on the contents of the flight recorders.

He confirmed a noise was heard in the final second of the cockpit recording as the aircraft was on autopilot and ascending. But he offered no description of the sound, saying a specialized analysis would be carried out to identify it.

The crash might have been caused by a lithium battery, an explosion or a mechanical issue, Muqaddam said, noting that the investigation was being hampered by bad weather.

Efforts to repatriate British, Russian tourists

Amid concerns over what happened to Flight 9268, Britain has suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh and is working to bring its citizens home from the resort.

Passengers flying back to Britain are being carried in separate planes from their baggage, reflecting fears that the Russian plane was brought down by a bomb placed in the luggage hold.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office says there is "a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device."

The Russian government, which initially played down suggestions that the crash was caused by terrorists, has suspended all air traffic with Egypt until the cause of the crash is determined. 

Russian authorities are taking similar steps to the British to repatriate citizens. Other countries have issued travel warnings.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told CNN that officials were taking "precautionary interim steps" to increase security on international flights into the United States during the investigation of the Egypt air disaster.

"ISIL is out there now active in a lot of different areas and, while this investigation is pending and because we have this group claiming responsibility, we believe it's significant to do these things on an interim basis," he said, using an alternative name for ISIS.

Johnson said authorities are evaluating whether additional measures were necessary.

CNN's Ray Sanchez, Ian Lee, Samira Said and Sarah Sirgany contributed to this report.

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