An Egyptian arm of the militant group ISIS claimed responsibility for the Russian jetliner that crashed Saturday in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Those claims were promptly rejected by both Egyptian and Russian officials, who said there was no evidence that any weapons brought down the Airbus A321-200 carrying 224 passengers and crew members, most of whom were Russian nationals. But why would ISIS take responsibility of downing a Russian jetliner in the first place?
In a tweet sent out by an ISIS-related Twitter account, the militant group claimed the plane crash was in response to the recent Russian airstrikes on ISIS insurgents in Syria. "The soldiers of the caliphate succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane," the tweeted statement read, via Agence France-Presse.
The Assad-backed Russian airstrikes were controversial from the start. Russia began its military offensive in Syria on Sept. 30, as part of its intervention of the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The Russian airstrikes have been supported by the Syrian military and President Bashar al-Assad, but criticized by the U.S. government. Shortly after Russia launched its first airstrike campaign in northwest Syria, President Obama publicly condemned Russia's intervention, claiming it would only empower ISIS militants.
The Obama administration, as well as Syrian opposition groups, feared that the Russian military would not only attack ISIS sites, but also opponents of the Assad regime. The U.S. government, of course, does not support Assad, while the Kremlin has long been a backer of the Syrian president.
"The problem here is Assad and the brutality that he's inflicted on the Syrian people, and it has to stop," Obama said at a White House press conference in early October. "We're not going to co-operate with a Russian campaign to destroy anyone who is disgusted and fed up with Assad."
But the Russian airstrikes have continued over the last month, their intensity magnifying. According to Al Jazeera, roughly 150 Syrians were killed in Russian airstrikes and raids on Friday. The raids were reportedly conducted in the major city of Aleppo, while airstrikes were carried out in the outlying areas. An airstrike also hit a marketplace in Douma, just outside of Damascus, on Friday, killing more than 60 people and wounding dozens of others.
An officer with the Syria Civil Defense told Al Jazeera that Douma does not have any terrorists or armed forces. "There are only civilians here - no army and no opposition forces," the officer told the news source. "Residents do not permit any armed person in this area."
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his colleagues warned that Russia will risk exacerbating the Syrian Civil War and further fueling ISIS and its animosity. As the Russian offensive continues in Syria in support of Assad, the U.S. government announced it will send in a small group of special forces to focus on fighting ISIS — and only ISIS.