France sends soldiers to guard Air Algeria wreck
PARIS (AP) — French officials have dispatched a military unit to secure the site in restive northern Mali where an Air Algeria plane crashed with 116 people aboard. France's interior minister said Friday that terrorism cannot be excluded as a cause for the tragedy though it was likely due to bad weather.
The MD-83 aircraft, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria's flagship carrier, disappeared from radar less than an hour after it took off early Thursday from Burkina Faso's capital of Ouagadougou for Algiers.
A message posted Friday on the website of President Francois Hollande said the wreckage had been clearly identified near the Burkina Faso border despite the disintegration of the aircraft.
"We think the plane went down due to weather conditions, but no hypothesis can be excluded as long as we don't have the results of an investigation," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio.
"Terrorist groups are in the zone ... We know these groups are hostile to Western interests," Cazeneuve said.
French forces intervened in northern Mali in January 2013 to rout Islamist extremists controlling the region. A French soldier was killed earlier this month near the major town of Gao, where French troops remain. Separatist Touaregs also have been fighting each other.
Earlier, officials in Burkina Faso said human remains and the burnt wreckage had been found about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the border of Burkina Faso near the Malian village of Boulikessi.
"We sent men, with the agreement of the Mali government, to the site, and they found the wreckage of the plane with the help of the inhabitants of the area," said Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a close aide to Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore and head of the crisis committee set up to investigate the flight.
The pilots had sent a final message to ask Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rain, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said Thursday.
The crash was the third airline disaster within a week.
Last week, a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down while over war-torn eastern Ukraine, and the U.S. has blamed it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile. On Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.
French forces had joined the search for the Air Algeria flight, alongside Algeria and other neighboring countries plus the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA. Algerian aircraft also participated in the hunt.
Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane was carrying 110 passengers and six crew, and left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 0117 GMT Thursday.
The passengers included 51 French, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two Luxembourg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian, Ouedraogo said. The six crew members were Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots' union.
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