Man on Missing Jet Was Asylum Seeker 03/11 07:26
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- A man traveling with a stolen passport on a
missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner was an Iranian teenager trying to migrate to
Germany, and is not believed to have any terrorist links, police said Tuesday.
The announcement is likely to dampen, at least for now, speculation that the
disappearance of the Boeing 777 was linked to terrorism. Police said a second
passenger also traveling with a stolen passport has not been identified. Both
bought their tickets in Thailand and entered Malaysia together.
No debris from the plane has been found. On Tuesday, baffled authorities
expanded their search to the opposite side of Malaysia from where it
disappeared more than three days ago with 239 people on board.
The airline says the pilots did not send any distress signals, suggesting a
sudden and possibly catastrophic incident. Speculation has ranged widely about
possible causes, including pilot error, plane malfunction, hijacking and
News that two of the passengers were traveling with stolen passports
immediately fueled speculation of foul play. However, Malaysian police chief
Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference Tuesday that investigators had
determined one was a 19-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad, who was
planning to enter Germany to seek asylum.
"We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group," Khalid
He said the young man's mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been
in contact with police. He said she contacted Malaysian authorities to inform
them of her concern when her son didn't get in touch with her.
He also said there was no truth to a statement by at least one other
government official that five passengers had checked in for the flight but
never boarded the airplane.
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, on the western coast of Malaysia,
early Saturday en route to Beijing. It flew across Malaysia into the Gulf of
Thailand at 35,000 feet (11,000 meters) and then disappeared from radar screens.
Authorities have said the plane may have attempted to turn back toward Kuala
The hunt began on Saturday near the plane's last known location. But with no
debris found there, the search has been systematically expanded to include
areas the plane could have reached with the fuel it had on board. That is a
vast area in which to locate something as small as a piece of an aircraft.
Malaysia Airlines said search and rescue teams have expanded the scope
beyond the flight path to the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia's western
coast and Indonesia's Sumatra island --- the opposite side of Malaysia from its
last known location.
An earlier statement 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
The search currently includes nine aircraft and 24 ships from nine countries
that have been scouring the Gulf of Thailand on the eastern side of Malaysia.
Land areas also are being searched.
China, where two-thirds of the passengers are from, urged Malaysian
authorities on Tuesday to "speed up the efforts" to find the plane. It has sent
four ships, with another four on the way.
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.
Assuming the plane crashed into the ocean or disintegrated in midair, there
will likely still be debris floating in the ocean, but it may be widely spread
out, and much may have already sunk. In past disasters, it has taken days or
longer to find wreckage.
The United States has sent two navy ships, at least one of which is equipped
with helicopters, and a Navy P-3C Orion plane with sensors that can detect
small debris in the water. It said in a statement that the Malaysian government
has done "tremendous job" organizing the land and sea search effort.
Vietnamese planes and ships are also taking part.
Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the 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 military units
near the border with Laos and Cambodia had been instructed to search their
"So far we have found no signs ... so we must widen our search," he said.