Malaysia Airlines: Terrorism looking less likely

Officials identify two men that flew with stolen passports

(Getty Images)

It is looking less likely that terrorism led to the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

Interpol says two Iranians with no obvious links to terrorists were the passengers travelling on stolen passports.

The two Iranian men identified as Pouri Nourmohammadi, 19, and Delavar Seyedmohammaderza, 29, boarded a plane at the same time. Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble said Tuesday the two men travelled to Malaysia on their Iranian passports, then apparently switched to the stolen Austrian and Italian documents.

The 19-year-old is believed to have planned to seek asylum in Germany.

On Tuesday, baffled authorities expanded their search for the Boeing 777 on the opposite side of the country's coast from where it disappeared days ago with 239 people on board.

In the absence of any sign that the plane was in trouble before it vanished, speculation has ranged widely, including pilot error, plane malfunction, hijacking and terrorism, the last because two passengers were travelling on stolen passports. The terrorism theory weakened after Malaysian authorities determined that one of them was an Iranian asylum seeker.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters the 19-year-old was believed to be planning to enter Germany to seek asylum.

``We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group,'' Khalid said. He added that the young man's mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact with the police. He said she contacted Malaysian authorities to inform them of her concern when her son didn't get in touch with her.

Khalid said the other man travelling with the Iranian had arrived in Malaysia on the same day, and had yet to be identified. He said investigators had not ruled out any possibility, including hijacking, sabotageor apersonal motive to down the plane byeither the crew or passengers. He also said that the police `` had no prior information or intelligence about any involvement of terrorists,''

The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, on the western coast of Malaysia, early Saturday en route to Beijing. It flew overland across Malaysia and crossed the eastern coast into the Gulf of Thailand at 35,000 feet (11,000 metres). There it disappeared from radar screens. The airline says the pilots didn't send any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.

In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said search and rescue teams ``have expanded the scope beyond the flight path to the West Peninsula of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca.'' An earlier statement had said the western coast of Malaysia was ``now the focus,'' but the airline subsequently said that phrase was an oversight.

``The search is on both sides,'' Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said, adding that the previous statement didn't mean that the plane was more like to be off the western coast.

The new statement said authorities are looking at a possibility that MH370 attempted to turn back toward Kuala Lumpur. If it did indeed retrace its path, the plane could conceivably have crashed into the sea on the western coast, the other side of Malaysia from where it was reported missing. But this doesn't explain why it did not continue to show on radar while flying back toward Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia Airlines or other authorities have not addressed that question.

``All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities,'' is all that the Malaysia Airlines statement said.

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

Over the last three days the search mission has grown to include nine aircraft and 24 ships from nine countries, which have been scouring the Gulf of Thailand on the eastern side of Malaysia. Apart from the sea, land areas are also being searched.

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