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Stolen passports probed in Malaysian plane mystery



By JIM GOMEZ and THANAYARAT DOKSONE

PATTAYA, Thailand (AP) - Authorities questioned travel agents Monday at a beach resort in Thailand about two men who boarded the vanished Malaysia Airlines plane with stolen passports, part of a growing international investigation into what they were doing on the flight.

Nearly three days after the Boeing 777 with 239 people on board disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, no debris has been seen in Southeast Asian waters.

Five passengers who checked in for Flight MH370 didn't board the plane, and their luggage was removed from it, Malaysian authorities said. Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said this also was being investigated, but he didn't say whether this was suspicious.

The search effort, involving at least 34 aircraft and 40 ships from several countries, was being widened to a 100-nautical mile (115-mile, 185-kilometer) radius from the point the plane vanished from radar screens between Malaysia and Vietnam early Saturday with no distress signal.

Two of the passengers were traveling on passports stolen in Thailand and had onward tickets to Europe, but it's not known whether the two men had anything to do with the plane's disappearance. Criminals and illegal migrants regularly travel on fake or stolen documents.

Hishammuddin said biometric information and CCTV footage of the men has been shared with Chinese and U.S. intelligence agencies, who were helping the investigation. Almost two-thirds of the passengers on the flight were from China.

The stolen passports, one belonging to Christian Kozel of Austria and the other to Luigi Maraldi of Italy, were entered into Interpol's database after they were taken in Thailand in 2012 and 2013, the police organization said.

Electronic booking records show that one-way tickets with those names were issued Thursday from a travel agency in the beach resort of Pattaya in eastern Thailand. Thai police Col. Supachai Phuykaeokam said those reservations were placed with the agency by a second travel agency in Pattaya, Grand Horizon.

Thai police and Interpol officers questioned the owners. Officials at Grand Horizon refused to talk to The Associated Press.

Police Lt. Col. Ratchthapong Tia-sood said the travel agency was contacted by an Iranian man known only as "Mr. Ali" to book the tickets for the two men.

"We have to look further into this Mr. Ali's identity because it's almost a tradition to use an alias when doing business around here," he said.

The travel agency's owner, Benjaporn Krutnait, told The Financial Times she believed Mr. Ali was not connected to terrorism because he had asked for cheapest tickets to Europe and did not specify the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight.

Malaysia's police chief was quoted by local media as saying that one of the two men had been identified - something that could speed up the investigation.

Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman declined to confirm this, but said they were of "non-Asian" appearance, adding that authorities were looking at the possibility the men were connected to a stolen passport syndicate.

Asked by a reporter what they looked like, he said: "Do you know of a footballer by the name of (Mario) Balotelli? He is an Italian. Do you know how he looks like?" A reporter then asked, "Is he black?" and the aviation chief replied, "Yes."

Possible causes of the apparent crash include an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide, according to experts, many of whom cautioned against speculation because so little is known.

On Sunday, a Vietnamese plane spotted a rectangular object that was thought to be one of the plane's doors, but ships could not locate it. On Monday, a Singaporean search plane spotted a yellow object 140 kilometers (87 miles) southwest of Tho Chu island, but it turned out to be sea trash.

Malaysian maritime officials found oil slicks in the South China Sea, but lab tests found that samples of it were not from an aircraft, Azharuddin said.

Selamat Omar, a Malaysian whose 29-year-old son Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat was a passenger on the flight, told of getting a call from the airline saying the plane was missing.

"We accept God's will," Selamat said. "Whether he is found alive or dead, we surrender to Allah."

___

Gomez reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press writers Gillian Wong and Louise Watt in Beijing, Joan Lowy in Washington and Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.


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welcom szepi March 10 2014 at 5:39 PM

How come They dont have the picture of the two man with a stolen passport?

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1 reply
THE SHANKERS welcom szepi March 10 2014 at 5:58 PM

They were Muslims and Allah forbid Photo's and any other form of imageries of people, so they refused to be photographed, may be. LOL

Flag Reply 0 rate up
abqtrek March 10 2014 at 11:45 PM

At present, no possibilities can be confirmed or ruled out. Most everything right now is speculation. The plane may have crashed or it may have been hijacked to some unknown location. The 777 has a range of up to 7880 miles. If the plane was diverted, the hijackers would have avoided known air traffic control and military radar and could be anywhere within about 7000 miles from where the plane disappeared from radar. Perhaps someone should take a look in East Africa which would be within range if the plane had a full fuel load when it took off. Perhaps someplace like Somalia. Until the plane or its wreckage is found, all possibilities will need to be explored.

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linlitz March 10 2014 at 6:29 PM

All the "red flags" were there.....They purchased the "cheapest", "one-way" tkts. to "anywhere", using "CASH," AND, "stolen passports"!!! Why in the heck do "we" still need to removed our shoes, our clothing, be groped by strangers & abide by many, many flying regulations, when the most OBVIOUS tip-offs are ignored??? Surely we have the technology to SCAN passports upon check-in against a "stolen passport" registry?

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3 replies
Frank March 10 2014 at 6:36 PM

The using of a false or stolen passport was a real shock to me. With all the technology and threats of terrorism in the skies, I assumed everyone was checked out thoroughly. After all, what's the point of having a passport if it isn't checked to prevent criminals from flying around?

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1 reply
intimagemd Frank March 10 2014 at 6:50 PM

Agreed! The system only 'keeps honest people honest,' it seems!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Jay March 10 2014 at 6:42 PM

Let's see: Radar lost contact at a specific point. Search of the area revealed no trace of wreckage. If the plane exploded or fell apart in mid-air, plastic floatables would be found. If it dived from 35,000 feet, the pilots would have had opportunity to radio this fact. Further, impact would have ripped the plane open and again, stuff would be found floating. Perhaps the radar is wrong (although I don't know how that could be!). If so, the search needs to be in another area. Otherwise, there are just two scenarios that I can imagine, neither seems "reasonable." One is the suicide theory mentioned by some. If the one member of the crew killed others, then that person would be alone in the flight deck and able to plunge the aircraft without interference. But impact would still cause damage and floating debris so that idea doesn't work. The other scenario is nuts! Aliens took it. They found the plane by itself and wanted a closer look. They used really strong magnets to draw the plane to a larger craft hovering outside our atmosphere. Someday, it MAY be returned and no one aboard will remember a thing.

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3 replies
mrmagnif69 March 10 2014 at 7:45 PM

meteor hit the plane

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Zally March 10 2014 at 6:47 PM

So sad :-(

Flag Reply +5 rate up
allenconsulting March 10 2014 at 6:47 PM

And if we stop and question Arabs we are racists..But they do 98% of the terriorism..
Right..

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1 reply
gerbersmail allenconsulting March 10 2014 at 7:22 PM

If every passenger refused to fly on a flight with an Arab or anyone that closely resembled a terrorist on board the airlines would be more aggressive when conducting their background checks. People only seem to take notice and wake up once their pocket book gets hit. Let the airline revenues drop like a rock and see how fast they react. You can call it racist, prejudiced or anything else you want too. I could gives a rats ass! When 99% of terrorist acts are carried out by middle easterners that's where you start...PERIOD! This is the world we live in today and changes must be made in order to adapt to the perils of today's society. This politically correct B.S. has caused nothing but trouble for the world.

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obrobo1 March 10 2014 at 6:48 PM

As a former Policeman, and knowing what I know about the mainstream media, this information about passports are just to throw off the sleuths out there.

Out of all the passengers who could have met their maker, why would any of them get aboard a plane they knew would be blown up with them aboard? Perhaps under mind control with 72 virgins dancing in their heads, it could happen. However, to start my investigation, I would want to interview the five persons who missed the flight. Who, what, when, where, how and why?

Flag Reply +7 rate up
2 replies
Ghetto Cat obrobo1 March 10 2014 at 6:58 PM

Ha ha a silly angle for another but possibly right about being thrown off but heck, those airlines will have a nightmare dealing with relatives because they were flying a bad airplane.

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Marie obrobo1 March 10 2014 at 7:07 PM

have you ever heard of suicide bombers? People do this and die for Allah. They think it makes them special. AKA Terrorist

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bdot157 March 10 2014 at 6:49 PM

With all the latest technology............seriously ! How about a simple rule all and any airline tickets, can only be purchased with a credit card or certified bank check. All & any airline tickets have holagrams or some other identifying coded marker with passenger identity, ie. name,birth date,SS # for US citizens,birth place & country, information that will be cross checked upon boarding.

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1 reply
Marie bdot157 March 10 2014 at 7:05 PM

what you posted is sensible. However governments are not

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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