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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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condiee March 11 2014 at 11:27 AM

Just to add. Do you truly believe that we ever get all the information about anything, especially things that "don't add up"? If there were terrorists involved, would we be told? An airplane doesn't just disappear.

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1 reply
nxston08 condiee March 11 2014 at 11:38 AM

Yes they do just disappear. Among others read up on Amelia Earhart.

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sgantt30 March 11 2014 at 3:23 PM

even though they have been abducted for ransom and on land somewhere would be very bad, but better than being in the bottom of the ocean. no way to survive it My neice flys that same plane to phillipines on her job, our family are so thankful she did not take that flight ,even so we are praying for all concerned families, friends. anyone else

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Kent March 11 2014 at 11:00 AM

Yesterday, I watched an interview with a former high-ranking official from the NTSB. While he didn't rule out terrorism, it thought it was unlikely that the passengers traveling on stolen passports were involved in any way. Clearly, he was right.

Still, for a plane to disappear like that at 35,000 feet points to something catastrophic happening.

It would be interesting to know what information Malaysia Airlines was getting from the aircraft via ACARS prior to the plane disappearing from radar.

By the same token, what is the range of land-based radar extend over the water, both from Malaysia and Vietnam? Even if there was a catastrophic failure or a detonation of an explosive device, chances are that large portions of the plane would have survived the event, possibly remaining intact before hitting the water.

When TWA 800 exploded just off Long Island, it's believed that several large portions of the aircraft remained intact until they hit the water.

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macarr1900 March 11 2014 at 3:25 PM

why don't authorities get all the passengers cell phones and try to GPS the phones last whereabouts?

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John Coppola March 11 2014 at 10:59 AM

I think the Malaysian airline and government is covering up their lack of security (just because you have alot of guys walking around the airport dressed up in black uniforms with automatic rifles doesn't mean you have good security) and therefore the fact that there were a bunch of shady people on this plane. I think they are covering up some other things as well. Air France 447 crashed because of high altitude lightning storms over th Atlantic and irresponsible pilots. TWA 800 was shot out of the sky. This one is more of a mystery. I have to go with hijacking or explosion. B 777 's are super safe and most are new.

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2 replies
Wealth Builder John Coppola March 11 2014 at 11:16 AM

You don't sound as though you have ever traveled overseas. If you think US airport security is the best you are mistaken. How about we wait and go with facts instead of just making supposition? Why does everyone need to weigh in on what they think happened? Why not wait until the find the plane or pieces thereof and do a proper investigation. The truth will come out.

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waynewass427 John Coppola March 11 2014 at 11:17 AM

Another one of those "conspiracy theorists" (TWA 800). Up you meds!

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sfumxd March 11 2014 at 10:59 AM

the problem with the terrorist theory... is why do it if no one is going to know it was done. usually terriorist want credit eventually. this without a doubt is bazaar, you would think some debris would be found if in the ocean, I am curious to find the real story-

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1 reply
kdlebeouf sfumxd March 11 2014 at 11:15 AM

True, they usually do take credit but not always immediately. For example, after 911 no one made a creditable claim for the attack. Ultimately, our government had to piece the puzzle together and came-up with Al quaeda. Also, they might not be finished. In the past, terrorist have done things in multiples like during 911 they also hit the Pentagon and seemingly were going for the US Capital Building but that plane ended up in Pennsylvania. They may also be trying to get to hiding place before making the claim.

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Carol March 11 2014 at 3:36 PM

How do you hide a plane that size -- anywhere? UFO abduction? LOL could be, and perhaps they'll be deposited into the Sahara Desert when the aliens are done with them.

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2 replies
AL Carol March 11 2014 at 4:04 PM

You mean after the aliens are done probing them with cold metalic objects?

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laurie Carol March 11 2014 at 4:07 PM

you could EASILY hide something that big in an ocean, honey.

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TESA March 11 2014 at 3:47 PM

Did anyone else notice that the bottom half of both pics are the same?? what is up with that??

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Margo March 11 2014 at 4:17 PM

Doesn't make since! Every passengers has cell phones I would believe! Why wasn't one person calling or texting someone if they were safe? You can not take cell phones from 239 passengers and crew at the same time! They had to hit water in the dark...I know over 35,000 feet you would not beable to call ....but I believe a text would be sent hours later..due to slow reception....I know I once tried! And my text came into my daughter 3 hours later! This is strange

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1 reply
marcanagnos Margo March 11 2014 at 4:50 PM

That's because you eventually came near a cell site. It kept trying until it was able to transmit. If they're in the middle of a jungle or a mountain, it's not going to be able to connect. The whole world doesn't have cell service, that's why some of the terrorist leaders use sattelite phones. Most people don't have those.


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rebissell March 11 2014 at 3:20 PM

OK, what's with those photos of the two Iranians? I mean, two faces and two torsos, but one set of legs??? Come on, is this a very lame intelligence test, or is someone messing with us??

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1 reply
outshine1 rebissell March 11 2014 at 5:39 PM

They are the aliens that abducted the plane!

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