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Terror Fears Mount as U.S. Aids Search for EgyptAir

Police officers patrol at Charles de Gaulle airport, outside of Paris, on May 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Greek state TV reported that debris believed to be from an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo has been found in the Mediterranean Sea some 230 miles southeast of Crete, but the airliner was disputing the information after they “contacted aviation stakeholders that do not confirm the validity of information posted.”

However, Egypt’s airline ministry said “floating objects” including life jackets and possible wreckage were found near the Greek island of Karpathos. “Coordination with the Greek authorities is underway to identify the objects found,” the ministry statement said.

EgyptAir then issued a statement confirming the news: “EGYPTAIR sincerely conveys its deepest sorrow to the families and friends of the passengers onboard Flight MS804. Family members of passengers and crew have been already informed and we extend our deepest sympathies to those affected. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Investigation Team in co-operation with the Greek counterpart are still searching for other remains of the missing plane.”

Egypt’s Al-Ahram reported that family members waiting at Cairo International Airport had to be treated for “conditions varying from a mental breakdown to a rise in blood pressure” after the news was announced, with nine treated at the scene and one transported to the hospital.

Flight MS 804, an Airbus A320-232, was at 37,000 feet when it dropped to 10,000 feet and lost contact over the Mediterranean at 2:30 a.m. Cairo local time. The plane was about 10 miles into Egypt airspace at the time it vanished.

The aircraft, which left Paris just after 8 p.m. local time, was delivered in 2003. There was no bad weather reported in the area where the plane disappeared. EgyptAir, via its Twitter account, was the first to report that the plane was missing.

Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy told reporters at a press conference that the “possibility of a terror attack is higher than that of a technical error.”

White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said this morning that Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco “has briefed the president” on EgyptAir.

“The president asked to be updated throughout the day as the situation warrants, and directed administration officials to reach out to their international counterparts to offer support and assistance,” Schultz added.

The U.S. Navy sent a P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft fromPatrol Squadron VP-4 at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily to join the search. The United Kingdom, Cyprus, Italy and France were also helping in addition to Greece, the Egyptian armed forces said.

“It’s too early to determine what caused this disaster,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today. “The investigation is underway.”

The flight consisted of 56 passengers (including two infants and one child) and 10 crew — five cabin crew members, three security officers, and two in the cockpit.

Thirty of the passengers on board were from Egypt, while 15 were from France. There were two passengers from Iraq, and one each from Britain, Algeria, Belgium, Canada, Chad, Kuwait, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Earlier stops of Flight 804 included Tunisia and Eritrea. But the plane was reportedly swept by security at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN that it’s “essential we find out, if it is terrorism, how exactly was it carried out — was it an insider at the Paris airport?”

King noted that French intelligence had been “very concerned” about some type of attack coming up, and ISIS has been stung by recent battlefield defeats and needed some PR successes.

The congressman stressed that “a million employees have access to behind the scenes at the airport” — from vendors to airline employees to government employees — and it’s a particular concern “especially in a country like France where there’s more of a hostile Muslim population.”

Screening of airport employees has “improved,” King said, but there’s “no guarantee that they’re all going to be safe.”

Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on Wednesday to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, “where they discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues, including recent developments in Libya and Syria,” according to a readout from spokesman Mark Toner.

“The Secretary expressed his appreciation for the president’s recent statement of strong support for advancing Arab-Israeli peace. Secretary Kerry also stressed the importance of Egypt’s role as a regional partner and reiterated U.S. commitment to help Egypt fight terrorism, increase economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions and bolster regional security.”

Speaking about the EgyptAir incident at a NATO event in Brussels today, Kerry said, “I have no more knowledge than others at this point.”

“Our thoughts are with all the passengers,” he added.

In October, a Russian Metrojet A321 exploded over the Sinai after leaving Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. ISIS later posted in their Dabiq magazine a photo of the soda-can bomb they said took down the plane.

Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB, said of EgyptAir “apparently, it is a terrorist attack,” according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

There have been no formal claims of responsibility from ISIS or al-Qaeda issued via their official channels.

This story was updated at 1:25 p.m. EST