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Terrorism looking less likely as mystery of plane disappearance deepens

The announcement form the internationl police force comes as searches have completely shifted their focus to opposite Malaysian coast.

Indonesian Navy pilot checks his map during a search operation.
Indonesian Navy pilot checks his map during a search operation.
Image: Anna Gowthorpe/Binsar Bakkara via AP Photo

Updated 12.10 PM

THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE of a Malaysia Airlines plane with 239 people on board was not likely caused by a terrorist attack, Interpol said today after revelations that two passengers had used stolen European passports.

“The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it was not a terrorist incident,” Ronald K. Noble, head of Interpol, told reporters.

The announcement from Interpol comes as Malaysian police have identified one of two men who boarded a missing Malaysian jet with fake passports as a 19-year-old Iranian believed to be seeking to emigrate to Germany.

The man has been identified as Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, Malaysia’s national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters.

Austrian passport

Khalid said the 19-year-old boarded the plane on an Austrian passport whose owner had previously reported it stolen.

We have been checking his background. We have also checked in with other police organisations on his profile. We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terror group and we believe he was trying to migrate to Germany.

Khalid said authorities had not yet identified the other man.

Disappeared flight

Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 disappeared early Saturday with 239 people aboard, sparking an international search for the plane in waters off Southeast Asia.

Revelations that two passengers on board were travelling on EU passports – one Austrian, one Italian – that were stolen in Thailand had fuelled speculation of a security breach and possible terrorist attack.

Asked why police believed the man was seeking to emigrate to Germany, Khalid said authorities had been in contact with his mother, who was waiting for him to reach Frankfurt.

Mehrdad and the other man, who used the Italian passport but has not been identified, both arrived in Kuala Lumpur on February 28.

Khalid said Malaysian police had been in touch with their counterparts in other countries, including Iran.

However, he said police were still considering all possibilities in terms of criminal involvement in the plane’s disappearance, when asked whether police thought the revelation made them consider terrorism less likely in the case.

Khalid said police were focusing their investigations on various theories including a hijacking, sabotage or psychological problems among passengers or crew.

Hunt

Authorities hunting for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner are expanding their search on land and sea.

Recovering debris from the plane is vital to finding out what caused it to go missing and to prevent a repeat, as well as providing some closure for the families of passengers on board.

In the absence of evidence, speculation over possible causes ranges widely, including terrorist attack, pilot error and plane malfunction.

The plane vanished off radar screens early Saturday morning en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur at 35,000 feet (11,000 meters), roughly in between the east coast of Malaysia and that of southern Vietnam.

image

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that disappeared from air traffic control screens Saturday.

(AP Photo/Laurent Errera)

The airline says the pilots didn’t send out any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.

In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said the western coast of the country, near the Straits of Malacca, was “now the focus” of the hunt.

That is on the other side of peninsular Malaysia from where flight 370 was reported missing, meaning if the plane went down there it would have had to fly over the country.

Malaysia’s air force chief said there were indications on military radar that the jet may have done a U-turn.

Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the Malaysia Airline statement didn’t imply authorities believed the plane was now more likely to be off the western coast. “The search is on both sides,” he said.

Search

image

People prepare to release a sky lantern during a candlelight vigil for the missing passengers.

(AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, has urged Malaysian authorities to “speed up the efforts” while also contributing ships and helicopters to the search.

A shopping mall in Beijing suspended advertising on its large outdoor LED screen to display a search timer — an image of an airplane along with a digital clock marking the time since contact with the flight was lost.

Speculation that it might have been a terrorist attack has been heightened by the fact that two passengers are known to have boarded the flight using passports stolen in Thailand.

Authorities questioned travel agents at a beach resort in Thailand on Monday, who police say were involved in handling reservations and issuing tickets used by two men.

The identities of the pair, who had both booked onward flights to Europe, aren’t yet known.

More than 40 planes and ships from over 10 nations are involved in the search, methodically combing sections of the ocean. Assuming it crashed into the ocean or disintegrated in midair, there will likely still be debris floating on the ocean, but it may be widely spaced out and the bulk of it may have already sunk.

The United States has sent two navy ships, at least one of which is equipped with helicopters, and a Navy P-3C Orion plane that onboard sensors allow the crew to clearly detect small debris in the water.

It said in a statement that the Malaysian government had done “tremendous job” organizing the land and sea effort.

image

Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation’s Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman briefs reporters on search and recovery efforts at a press conference.

(AP Photo/Daniel Chan)

The hunt began on Saturday morning at the point the plane was last known to be. But with no debris found, the search has been systematically expanded to include areas where the plane could have in theory ended up given the amount of fuel it had on board.

That is an area many thousands of square kilometres (miles) wide.

Vietnamese planes and ships are a major component of the international search and rescue effort.

Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnamese People’s Army, said authorities on land had also been ordered to search for the plane, which could have crashed into mountains or uninhabited jungle.

He said that military units near the border with Laos and Cambodia had been instructed to search their regions also.

“So far we have found no signs (of the plane) … so we must widen our search on land,” he said.

- Additional reporting AFP - © AFP, 2014

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