In a radio interview, Bernard Cazeneuve said terrorism could not be excluded as a cause of the crash – which happened after take-off on Wednesday – although he believed bad weather was probably to blame.
Last night the Foreign Office confirmed that a British man was among the passengers on the flight. No further details were released.
“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,” said Mr Cazeneuve.
“Terrorist groups are in the zone. We know these groups are hostile to western interests,” he added.
Investigators at the crash site in northern Mali yesterday concluded the airliner broke apart when it hit the ground, suggesting it was unlikely to have been blown out of the air by an Islamist missile.
French president François Hollande said there were no survivors in the crash of the aircraft, which disappeared less than an hour after it took off from Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, for Algiers. “French soldiers who are on the ground have started the first investigations. Sadly there are no survivors,” Mr Hollande said.
A column of 100 soldiers and 30 vehicles from the French force stationed in the region arrived early yesterday morning to secure the crash site near the northern Mali town of Gossi and to recover bodies, a defence ministry official said.
Mr Hollande said one of the black box flight recorders had already been recovered and would be analysed quickly. “The plane’s debris is concentrated in a small area, but it is too early to draw conclusions,” he said. “There are theories, especially the weather, but I’m not excluding any theory.”
French television showed images of the crash site taken by a soldier from Burkina Faso. The brief footage showed a desolate area with scattered debris. There were bits of twisted metal but no identifiable parts such as the fuselage or tail, or victims’ bodies. Scrubby vegetation could be seen scattered in the background.
Aviation officials lost contact with flight AH5017 at around 1.55am (GMT) on Thursday following a request by the pilot to change course due to bad weather.
Another plane crash is likely to add to nerves over flying a week after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine. A TransAsia Airways plane crashed off Taiwan during a thunderstorm on Wednesday.
International airlines cancelled flights into Tel Aviv this week, citing security concerns amid the instability in Gaza and fears that militant rockets could hit planes using the airport. US airlines have since eased their ban.
Air France-KLM yesterday announced it was avoiding flying over the site in northern Mali of the crashed Air Algerie airline as a “precautionary measure”, a spokesman for the French group said.
The spokesman said the company would continue to serve the Malian capital, Bamako, but using other flight paths to the west of the crash site in northern Mali.
Other than 51 French nationals, Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list included 27 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two from Luxembourg, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian.
Spanish private airline Swiftair, which owned the plane, said the six crew were Spanish. A spokesman confirmed that the wreckage of the plane had been found in Mali without survivors, adding it was too early to talk about the causes of the accident.
Last year France sent troops to Mali to drive out militant Islamist rebels who had taken control of the north of the country amid a military coup which ousted the Bamako government.