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Egyptians Growing Angry Over Suggestions of Copilot Suicide

By Howard Schneider and Lee Hockstader

Increasingly clear-cut suggestions from U.S. investigators that a copilot deliberately crashed EgyptAir Flight 990 into the Atlantic have led the Egyptian people and their government from shock to indignation to a growing display of anger.

The unwillingness to accept what investigators describe as evidence from cockpit recorders comes from government officials, pilots, students, journalists and religious leaders, as well as ordinary people. Although much is at stake -- legal liability, tourism and the government’s reputation on security -- the swell of anger seems to flow mainly from the simple conviction that an Egyptian would not do such a thing.

That has left much of the Cairo press scrambling for an alternative theory. Writers have come up with everything from “laser rays” to sabotage by Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, to a U.S. government plot designed to avoid exposing Boeing to liability.

In a measure of the rising tension, the State Department urged an end to what it called speculation from investigators, reported in the U.S. press, about what caused the Boeing 767 to plunge into the ocean with 217 people aboard. The department spokesman, James Rubin, said the reports from Washington are producing what he called “wild conspiracy theories” in the Arab press.

“We are concerned and troubled by speculative conclusions coming out of those in the United States involved in this general investigation,” Rubin said. “We’re appealing for calm, and calm can only come if there is a minimum of speculation about conclusions in this country, and a minimum of wild, exaggerated, unfounded conspiracy theories in other media in the Middle East.”

Egyptian officials have complained bitterly to their American counterparts in private about the conclusions of U.S. investigators suggesting that evidence shows a copilot, Gameel El-Batouty, steered the plane into the water on purpose after uttering a traditional phrase placing his fate in the hands of God. In their view, the evidence is far from conclusive and the investigation into a possible malfunction of the plane should continue.