SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Up to 20,000 British tourists were waiting to be evacuated from Sharm el-Sheikh on Wednesday night after David Cameron suspended all flights to and from the Egyptian resort amid fears a bomb brought down a Russian passenger jet.
Downing Street said its latest information suggested Flight 7K9268 "may well have been brought down by an explosive device" on Saturday. The Airbus A321 holiday charter crashed in the Sinai desert with the loss of 224 lives.
A team of British security experts arrived at the Red Sea resort yesterday afternoon to carry out an urgent assessment of its airport security.
British tourists on board aircraft that were minutes from take-off had to be disembarked and sent to hotels after being told that all flights had been suspended with immediate effect.
No?10 said flights would not resume until the British experts were happy that security measures at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport were satisfactory.
Approximately 20,000 Britons are currently thought to be in the resort.
The Prime Minister took the decision - on the day the Egyptian president arrived in London - knowing it was likely to cause diplomatic tensions with both Egypt and Russia.
Not only did Downing Street ignore the official line from both countries that there was so far no evidence of a terrorist attack, it also left no doubt that it does not trust Egypt to police its own borders.
Mr Cameron's talks with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi were expected to be dominated by Britain's strategy towards Libya.
Instead, Mr Cameron is likely to have to explain to the Egyptian delegation why he did not trust them with the safety of British holidaymakers.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed. But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.
"In light of this and as a precautionary measure we have decided that flights due to leave Sharm for the UK?...will be delayed."
The Daily Telegraph understands that the intelligence that led to the decision did not come from information gleaned from the wreckage.
One possibility is that a satellite image obtained by US intelligence, which shows a "flash" as the aircraft went down, suggests that an explosion happened on board. Another possibility is that online "chatter" among terrorist suspects has reinforced the theory that a bomb was placed on the aircraft.
Whitehall sources said there was no one piece of intelligence that pointed to a bomb but it was increasingly likely based on all the available information.
Mr Cameron had chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on Tuesday and spoke to Mr Sisi by telephone, but only acted yesterday after fresh intelligence was received.
A Thomson charter was preparing to leave Sharm for Manchester when passengers were told that it would have to return to the terminal.
Mark Herbert, travelling with his family, said he was expecting to spend the night in a hotel but hoped to fly home today. He said: "It's inconvenient but I'd rather be safe." James Oliver, from London, said: "If the British Government have stopped flights they must tell us why they did. We need to know because what they are doing is scaring tourists."
Russia and Egypt are divided over the possible cause of the Metrojet airlines crash, with Cairo rejecting the Russian investigators' conclusion that the Airbus had broken up in mid-air.
Mr Sisi said a claim of responsibility by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) was "false propaganda".
A spokesman for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said it was "inappropriate" to speculate on whether the aircraft might have been targeted as revenge for Russia's military intervention in Syria. Russia also said no traces of explosive were found on bodies recovered from the crash site.
An Egyptian doctor who examined bodies at the crash site said around one in five of them had been badly burned, suggesting a fire in the cabin. One Egyptian newspaper also claimed an analysis of the aircraft's black box flight data recorder had suggested one of the engines had exploded.
The US last night said its own intelligence suggested that the crash was most likely caused by a bomb.
An official who declined to be named told CNN: "There is a definite feeling it was an explosive device planted in luggage or somewhere on the plane."
The assessment was reached, the official said, by looking back at intelligence reports that had been gathered before Saturday's plane crash and intelligence gathered since then.
Another US official said the intelligence regarding Isil was in part based on monitoring of internal messages of the terrorist group.
The group claimed that the plane was brought down on the 17th day of the month of Muharram in the Muslim lunar calendar, the first anniversary of the Sinai affiliate's pledge of allegiance to Isil.