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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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Joyce March 11 2014 at 2:07 PM

Look up to find it. Satelites in the sky could probably locate it.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
luckysilver60 March 11 2014 at 10:09 AM

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

Flag Reply +2 rate up
charlie March 11 2014 at 10:10 AM

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

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Betts March 11 2014 at 2:15 PM

What a crock of ****.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
coachwrobo March 11 2014 at 10:17 AM

If the pilots, crew, and passengers all passed out due to cabin decompression, and if the auto pilot was on, could the plane cruise at 35,000 ft for the 7.5 hours of gas remaining in the tanks, and just crashed after the tanks emptied out hundreds of miles away from where they are searching now?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
Pierre coachwrobo March 11 2014 at 10:25 AM

Any large plane in the air will still shows up on radar.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Ron coachwrobo March 11 2014 at 10:28 AM

Wouldn't it have shown up on radar? Ding.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Kay March 11 2014 at 12:17 PM

How does anyone know that the pilots weren't bribed to take the plane down and then their families would get paid, there could have been a deal like that. Or, maybe the pilot, or co-pilot had bad depression and took the plane down.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
sheeplesuks March 11 2014 at 10:19 AM

2 people that know each other both have stolen passports and thats just a coincidink??? i think not

Flag Reply +11 rate up
heatherwoertman March 11 2014 at 10:19 AM

Why still a passport when you know you look nothing like the person

Flag Reply +1 rate up
3 replies
shindogdiggity88 March 11 2014 at 12:16 PM

Is it irony, or just bad luck that the two guys onboard who are being called "terrorists", are Iranians?

Flag Reply +5 rate up
summoningki March 11 2014 at 11:27 AM

Two men boarding the plane at the same time do not a gay couple make. Simply because they were from Iran they were terrorists is not a good argument either, but stolen documents does not help their case and even if they were not terrorists they were still using stolen documentation to enter a country illegally. The mention of 5 people who were supposed to be on the plane according to the one government official that is then mysteriously withdrawn (?) however, might bear more scrutiny especially if their luggage was on board and they were not.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
jteasdale summoningki March 11 2014 at 11:41 AM

Earlier reports said their luggage had been removed from the plane when they did not show up and/or there was no luggage for them.

It is not at all unusual for someone to book a flight and then not make it to the airport - just plain late - sickness - emergency - didn't make connections etc. There wouldn't even be any luggage to remove because they never showed up to start with.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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