Malaysia Airlines MH370: Iranian was travelling on stolen passport, say cops

Written by PTI | Kuala Lumpur | Updated: Mar 11 2014, 22:05pm hrs
Malaysia Airlines plane'He is 19-years-old and he is an Iranian, we believe that he is an Iranian' (Reuters)
Investigators probing the baffling disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines plane with 239 people aboard today identified a 19-year-old Iranian man as one of the two persons who travelled on stolen passports but said he is "not likely" to have terrorist links.

"We have identified (one of the two persons travelling on stolen passports as) an Iranian by the name of Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad. He is 19-years-old and he is an Iranian, we believe that he is an Iranian," Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in Kuala Lumpur.

"We have been checking his background. We have also checked him with other police organisation on his profile and we believe that he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group. We believe that he was trying to migrate to Germany," he was quoted as saying by BBC.

Authorities were in contact with the Iranian's mother in Germany, who has been expecting her son to arrive in the city of Frankfurt, he said.

The investigation into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 widened with authorities questioning travel agents about the two men who boarded the plane with stolen passports of an Italian and an Austrian.

The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 plane had 227 passengers on board, including five Indians and one Indian-origin Canadian, and 12 crew members.

The police chief said that they had not finalised their probe on the other passenger who used a stolen passport.

"On the other person who travelled on the stolen passport, we are still conducting our investigation," he said.

Another Iranian man named Kazem Ali bought one-way tickets for the two men, describing them as friends who wanted to return home to Europe, CNN reported citing Thai police.

While Ali made the initial booking by telephone, either he or someone acting on his behalf paid for the tickets in cash, police said.

"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," Police Lt Colonel Ratchthapong Tia-sood said.

The travel agency's owner, Benjaporn Krutnait, told The Financial Times she believed 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.

The search for the missing plane entered the fourth day, as 34 planes, 40 ships and teams from ten countries were involved in search operations that were widened to a 100 nautical mile (185 km) radius from the point the plane was last detected.

The Malaysian police chief contradicted aviation chief's statement yesterday that five people did not board the plane.

"There is no such thing as five person who did not board the plane. There is no such thing," Khalid said. He said that the director of the criminal investigation department has been appointed to head the investigation into what happened and that they were looking at four different scenarios.

"We are looking into four areas: one; hijacking, two; sabotage, three; psychological problems of the passengers and crew and four; personal problems among the passengers and crew," he said.

"We are going through all the passenger manifests and our counterparts in at least 14 countries...and also from other parts of the world," he added.

The Malaysia Airlines, in a statement today, said "The search and rescue teams (SAR) have expanded the scope beyond the flight path to the West Peninsular of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca. 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."

Vietnam's deputy military chief said he has ordered a land search for the plane up to border with Laos and Cambodia. The list of passengers on board the plane included 154 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, 7 Indonesians, 6 Australians, 5 Indians, 4 Americans and 2 Canadians.

Indians have beenidentified as Chetna Kolekar, 55, Swanand Kolekar, 23, Vinod Kolekar, 59, Chandrika Sharma, 51, andKranti Shirsatha, 44.