THE suspected mastermind behind the downing of a Russian plane in Egypt killing 224 people has been unmasked as the British Government said it is prepared to kill him.
By Selina Sykes
Abu Osama al-Masri has been unmasked as the Russian plane bomb suspect
British intelligence chiefs believe the plane, which crashed in the Sinai peninsula, was brought down by a bomb planted by an offshoot of Islamic State (ISIS).
Whitehall confirmed Abu Osama al-Masri is a "person of interest" and Britain would help Egypt and Russia in a "kill or capture" mission.
The former Egyptian scholar and cleric heads Sinai Province - a militant group affiliated with ISIS after he brokered a pact with its jihadis last year.
The Sinai branch of ISIS is one of the group's most active and powerful affiliates, according to US counter-terrorism officials.
Sinai Province pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in return for weapons, finance and bomb-making knowledge.
An intelligence officer said: "It's a small number of militants, but it takes just one person to carry out a suicide bombing."
224 Russians were killed on the downed flight
It's a small number of militants, but it takes just one person to carry out a suicide bombing
Masri claimed responsibility for the Russian plane crash in an audio statement entitled entitled "We Downed It, So Die in Your Rage", issued on November 4 - on the same day Prime Minister David Cameron halted all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
Intelligence officials believe Masri's group used an airport insider to smuggle a bomb into the luggage hold of the Metrojet aircraft last Saturday. Noise heard on the cockpit's black box recording was consistent with an explosion caused by a bomb.
It is feared the mole is still at large.
Officials have begun investigating whether any Britons allied to ISIS were involved in the Russian jet crash after security experts intercepted "chatter" between extremists talking in London and Birmingham accents in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Sinai Province has repeatedly claimed responsibility for the Russian plane crash - but has officially refused to explain how it was done.
Masri, 42, is a former scholar of the al-Azhar University in Cairo - a 1,000-year-old Sunni Muslim institution that gave an honorary doctorate to the Prince of Wales in 2008.
The UK suspended flights after intelligence found it was likely the crash was caused by a bomb
The Sinai Province frontman first emerged in late 2013 when he released a series of recorded statements for the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis jihadi group, which was then linked to al-Qaeda.
Masri has since changed allegiances, taking charge of the Egyptian faction of ISIS that largely operates in the Sinai peninsula.
He is believed to have been born in north Sinai and grew up in Sharqiya in the Nile Delta - where many of the country's senior jihadis were born - including al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Recordings from the cockpit's black box confirm an explosion occurred
The mysterious leader is consistently blurred out in videos and even wears gloves to hide distinctive marks on his hand, according to an expert in Egypt’s jihadist movements.
Mokhtar Awad, from the Centre for American Progress, said: “He is clearly well educated in Islamic jurisprudence, his speeches are always littered with Koranic scripture. That is why he was chosen, no other person can speak so eloquently."
The backlog could take up to 12 days to clear as Egyptian authorities continue to restrict the number of British flights taking off.