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Men with stolen passports on jet 'not terrorists'

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Two men traveling with stolen passports on a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner were Iranians who had bought tickets to Europe and were probably not terrorists, law enforcement officials 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 both men 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 terrorism.

Malaysia Flight: Iranian Suspects 'Probably Not Terrorists'

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, and that it seemed likely that he was planning to migrate to Germany.

"We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group," Khalid said.

Interpol identified the second man as a 29-year-old Iranian and released an image of the two boarding a plane at the same time. Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said the two men traveled to Malaysia on their Iranian passports, then apparently switched to their stolen Austrian and Italian documents.

He said speculation of terrorism appeared to be dying down "as the belief becomes more certain that these two individuals were probably not terrorists."

Khalid said the 19-year-old 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 Lumpur.

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 said.

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 regions also.

"So far we have found no signs ... so we must widen our search," he said.

Join the discussion

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cindersdg March 11 2014 at 12:11 PM

What ever happened must have happened incredibly fast...with all the cell phones on board, not one person called home to leave a message for loved ones!

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2 replies
jjohanahr cindersdg March 11 2014 at 12:14 PM

i know right

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shindogdiggity88 cindersdg March 11 2014 at 12:22 PM

They make you turn your phones off before takeoff, and from my experience with smart phones is that it takes a while to turn them back on.

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1 reply
kevinbgood621 shindogdiggity88 March 11 2014 at 12:39 PM

Android phones have passed up Iphones in sales . One reason is because they turn on in seconds !

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karen_jewell@ymail.com March 11 2014 at 5:05 PM


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1 reply
donnajstlkng2003 karen_jewell@ymail.com March 11 2014 at 5:21 PM

I was thinking of that movie as well since this has played out.

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arcoregar March 11 2014 at 11:52 AM

First the story claims, not terroist then in the very beginning it states probably not terrorist...which is it?

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2 replies
nepatriots1941 arcoregar March 11 2014 at 12:00 PM

A toss up....so much corruption it's hard to keep up with this bunch of renegades....But I try to like hell....

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mbaughn1 arcoregar March 11 2014 at 12:01 PM

The story should say; They most definitely might be terrorists probably not.

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NETTIE March 11 2014 at 10:02 AM

So, as far as I can see, the words "probably not terrorists" was stated twice. In any case, I am hoping for success in the search and all on board are okay.

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Charlie March 11 2014 at 10:06 AM

What is the reason that everytime there is an incident like this one that the officials involved can only say that it "probably" not terrorism. It seems there are usually no proof being offered to eliminate terrorism but no one wants to points to terrorism. If they weren't terrorist why use stolen passports after they apparently got out of Iran with good passports? Again, governments are portecting the terrorist around the world. Iran hates just about any country remotely connected the west and they have no problem killing them.

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davidrpriest March 11 2014 at 10:06 AM

How can the police make a statement like this? They have not even begun a real investigation. The two were from Iran( known terrorist state) traveling on stolen passports and someone from Iran paid cash for a ticket ( Almost all terrorist pay cash.) It is possible that they are not terrorists but this fits the profile of terrorism. Until you find the plane and do a complete investigation, ruling these two out as terrorists is sloppy police work. Did they check any bags? Probably not because they knew they wouldn't need them. This sounds like Muslims in Malaysia trying to cover up what really happened before they even start an investigation.

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1 reply
yourbeachdaddy davidrpriest March 11 2014 at 10:43 AM

Maybe the government knows the two men blew up the plane and just said these guys are not terrorists just to not give credit to these men. This may get the cell to start talking to one another again. At that point, the Government will listen in and get the rest of the cell.

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dzpendragon March 11 2014 at 2:16 PM

What happened? No one likes my Litte Men from outer space theory?

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1 reply
jestani111 dzpendragon March 11 2014 at 2:33 PM

dzpendragon do you think this is a joke? 239 people on board, think about their families waiting for them.

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luckysilver60 March 11 2014 at 10:09 AM

maybe not maybe not they don't know so why say maybe not

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charlie March 11 2014 at 10:10 AM

It"s sad news and all we can do wait , pray, and hope for the best.

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Gracie GirL March 11 2014 at 2:17 PM

The relatives of some passengers are reporting now that when they call the passengers cell phones they are still ringing. Also the news now reports that the plane made a 190 degree turn and was flying lower than first reported. Also Malaysia Airlines admits that pilots often leave their cock pit doors open unlike US commercial pilots~

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2 replies
gdwn411 Gracie GirL March 11 2014 at 2:25 PM

If any of them had an Iphone, cant they search for it on icloud? Or perhaps something with the other cell phones out there.

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1 reply
Gracie GirL gdwn411 March 11 2014 at 2:53 PM

You just gave a clue !! The news claims the cell phones are ringing so the phone companys should be able to *Ping* the phone calls and locate them. It is done every day by Detectives.

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deejunebug Gracie GirL March 11 2014 at 4:17 PM

I would LOVE to find out the passengers are at least safe on the ground somewhere. I've dared to hope something like that could be the unexpected outcome. I know if there is one tiny thread of hope to cling to the loved ones won't give up. I can't even fathom what all the confusion the authorities are putting out there is doing to the family members. They are making an already nightmare situation even more unbearable.

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