Iranian nationals used the stolen passports, booked tickets – but authorities still hesitant to blame terrorism.
As the search for the 239 missing passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 continues, the names of the Iranians involved in the plane’s disappearance have been revealed on Tuesday, March 11.
CNN reports that Interpol revealed the names of the two men who boarded the flight last week using stolen passports – one Austrian, one Italian. The two men – both Iranian nationals – were Pouria Nourmohammadi, 19, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29. Thai police have also named the Iranian man responsible for selling the passports and booking the tickets: Mr. Kazem Ali.
On Monday, Benjaporn Krutnait, owner of the agency Grand HorizonTravel in Pattaya, Thailand, stated that Ali booked two one-way ticketsfor the Iranian nationals, with Frankfurt as the final destination. Ali noted that the men were just “friends who wanted to go home to Europe” and paid in cash – a common practice in Pattaya.
Despite the development, authorities are hesitant to cry ‘terrorism,’ according to the news agency. At the very least, according to Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar of the Royal Malaysian Police, the younger Iranian’s record appears to be clean.
“We have been checking his background,” Khalid said. “We have also checked him with other police organizations of his profile, and we believe that he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group.”
Analysts noted on Monday that stolen or fake passports were a common occurrence in Asia, according to Yediot Aharonot, and explains why the stolen passports did not automatically raise a “red flag” during the check-in process. Despite this, Malaysia Airlines continues to face criticism over the passports, which were not picked up by authorities despite being registered on an Interpol stolen passport list.
No apparent terror link
The head of Interpol says the jet’s disappearance does not appear to be related to terrorism. However, the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said Tuesday that terrorism could not be ruled out.
“You cannot discount any theory,”‘ CIA Director John Brennan said in Washington.
Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble says the new information about two Iranian men who used stolen passports to board the plane makes terrorism a less likely explanation for the jet’s disappearance.
Malaysian Police Inspector General Khalid Tan Sri says the 19 year-old Nourmohammadi was likely trying to migrate to Germany.
“We have been checking his background. We have also checked him with other police organizations on his profile, and we believe that he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group,” the inspector told reporters. “And we believe that he is trying to migrate to Germany.”
Khalid said Nourmohammadi’s mother knew he was traveling on a stolen passport.
The other man’s identity is still under investigation. But the development reduces the likelihood they were working together as part of a terror plot.
Meanwhile, an extensive review of all of those on board continues.
Israeli experts also stated Monday that the lack of new developments is not surprising; it may take years to know the cause of the plane’s disappearance, if it is ever discovered at all. The 1988 Lockerbie terrorist bombing on Pam Am Flight 103 took three years to solve, experts noted, and even then serious doubts remain over precisely who was responsible.
In the meantime, rescue teams have reported that “huge chunks of debris” were seen floating off the coast of Vietnam – but that the debris’ connection to the missing airline has not been confirmed.
In addition, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the jetliner took a new turn Tuesday when the airline announced it was expanding the search to the Malacca Strait, hundreds of miles from the Boeing 777’s last confirmed location.
The Malacca Strait is located between Malaysia’s western coast and Indonesia’s Sumatra island which is the opposite side of Malaysia from the plane’s last known position recorded by civilian authorities.
To reach the busy shipping lane, the plane would have had to cross over the country.
Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing vanished early Saturday, less than an hour after takeoff, with 239 people on board, without sending a distress signal. Authorities have said the plane might have attempted to turn back to Kuala Lumpur before dropping off radar.
The Associated Press reported the Malaysian military has radar data that shows the jetliner changed course and made it to the Malacca Strait, according to a senior military official. He also said the plane was believed to be flying low and did not transmit signals detectable by civilian radar.
Malaysia’s civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the search continues “on both sides” of the country and did not confirm the country’s western coast was now the focus of the search.
Khalid says authorities are looking into four possible scenarios in connection with the plane’s disappearance: hijacking, sabotage, personal disputes and the psychological condition of those on board.
“There may be somebody on the flight who has bought huge sums of insurance. Who wants the family to gain from it. Or somebody who owes so much money and you know,” he said, adding that they are looking at all possibilities.
Air Malaysia says it is in negotiations regarding financial aid with relatives of the Chinese passengers on board.