No terror link suspected in stolen jet passport

No terror link suspected in stolen jet passport

Credit: How Foo Yeen/Getty Images

This composite of images shows an Iranian suspect, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, who was traveling on Flight MH370 with a stolen Austrian passport, (L) and an unidentified suspect who was traveling on Flight MH370 with a stolen Italian passport (R), on March 11, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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by Calum MacLeod and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY

KREM.com

Posted on March 11, 2014 at 9:22 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Authorities say one of the passengers using a stolen passport on the missing Malaysian Airlines jetliner was Iranian — a 19-year-old who they believe was intending to migrate to Germany and is not suspected of having links to terrorism groups.

Police in Malaysia named the teen as Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad.

General Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia's police chief inspector, said police had spoken to the man's mother, who knew her son was using a stolen passport on his attempted journey, via Beijing, to join her in Frankfurt.

The identity of the second person who used a stolen passport to board the flight is still being investigated, police say. Interpol named him as Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, also an Iranian national. He entered and left Malaysia at the same time and date as Mehrdad. Southeast Asia is widely regarded as a hub for illegal migration.

Bakar said authorities had "no prior intelligence on activities of terrorists" in connection with the flight, but that did not mean they were ruling out terrorism. He said the police investigation into the missing flight was focused on four areas: hijacking, sabotage, personal problems among crew and passengers or psychological problems among crew or passengers.

As an example of relevant psychological or personal problems, Bakar suggested police would investigate "if somebody on the flight had bought huge sums of insurance," so their family could gain, or were in severe debt. "We are looking into every possibility," he said.

Bakar denied earlier reports, sourced by local media from Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation, that five passengers had checked in to flight MH370 but not boarded the plane. "Everybody who booked the flight boarded the flight," he said. Police are studying video footage from the airport, he said, and gathering photographs and profiles of all the passengers from authorities in the 14 countries of which they were citizens.

Those pictures and profiles are still coming in, said Bakar, but China, whose state-run press has been critical of the speed of the Malaysian response, has delivered photos and profiles for all 153 of its citizens on board the flight, he said. Bakar met a delegation from China's Ministry of Public Security on Tuesday.

Immigration Department Director-General Datuk Aloyah Mamat said that the two passengers now known to have used stolen passports arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 28 and left on March 7. Immigration officers matched the passport bearers and the images in their passports and issued both a 90-day "social visit pass" visa, she said.

While Malaysian immigration requires visitors to give their fingerprints, it appears these biometric details are not checked against an international database.

The development comes Tuesday as investigators, having failed to find any debris from the missing jetliner in the waters off Vietnam, widened the scope of their search, focusing for the first time on Malaysia's western coast.

That brings the focus of the hunt beyond the flight path, and to the opposite side of the country from where the flight was reported.

Malaysia Airlines said in a statement Tuesday that the search-and-rescue mission has now expanded to the "West Peninsular of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca."

The airline reiterated its position that it is continuing to consider a wide range of possibilities.

"The authorities are looking at a possibility of an attempt made by MH370 to turn back to Subang. All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities," Malaysia Airlines said in the statement.

The Boeing 777 with 239 people on board disappeared Saturday over the South China Sea less than an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur on its way to Beijing. A search effort involves dozens of aircraft and ships from several countries.

Hjelmgaard reported from London.

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