Malaysia yesterday launched a terror probe into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines jet carrying 239 passengers and crew, including some suspected of boarding with stolen passports, while other possibilities suggest the plane had made an unannounced decision to turn back.
The United States has sent agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into why flight MH370 vanished from radar screens early on Saturday somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam, but it stressed there was no evidence of terrorism yet.
Malaysian authorities also expanded their search for wreckage to the country’s west coast, and asked for help from Indonesia. Searchers had concentrated on waters to the country’s east, in the South China Sea.
Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia would be working with foreign intelligence agencies, including the FBI, on the matter.
“If it is an international network, Malaysian immigration alone will not be sufficient. We have also informed the counter-terrorism units of all relevant countries.
“At this point, we have not established if there was a security risk involved (and) we do not want to jump the gun,” he said when asked if there could be any hijack or terror elements in the disappearance of the MH370 flight.
In regard to two “impostors” who boarded the flight using passports reported lost by an Italian and an Austrian, Hishammuddin said authorities would screen the entire manifest of the flight.
The two people who used stolen passports were captured on closed-circuit television at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director-general of the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department, said yesterday that the CCTV recordings would be used in the department’s investigations.
“We have CCTV recordings from the point of check-in right up to departure point,” Azharuddin said in a press conference.
Italian Luigi Maraldi, whose name is on the manifest, was not on the missing MAS flight.
According to news reports from Italy quoting its foreign ministry, Maraldi’s passport was stolen last August while he was in Thailand.
London’s Daily Mirror also reported that a second passenger was using a stolen passport. Austrian Christan Kozel has been confirmed as safe and well by authorities. He told Austrian newspaper De Standard that his passport was stolen when he visited Thailand two years ago.
The suspicious identities have fuelled speculation of a terrorist attack. A Malaysian security analyst said the sudden disappearance of flight MH370, which left Kuala Lumpur early Saturday bound for Beijing, bore similarities to the Pan Am flight 103 bombing in 1988.
The sudden loss of contact indicated that whatever happened “did not give time for the pilot or any people on board the plane to react”, he said.
Defence Minister Hishammuddin said the main priority at the moment was to locate the missing aircraft.
Malaysia’s Air Force confirmed the possibility that flight MH370 performed an air turn-back. This was according to a recording captured on military radar, Air Force chief General Rozali Daud said.
He described an air turn-back as a flight which had deviated from the flight path and into a reciprocal heading.
“We are also baffled by the no signal from the ELT (emergency locator transmitter) emergency beacon.
“What we have done is to look into the recording on the radar that we have and we realised that there is a possibility that the aircraft had made a turn-back.
Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, CEO of Malaysia Airlines, said an air turn-back could be launched when a pilot is unable to proceed on the planned flight path.
“Normally, he (the pilot) makes the decision to turn back but he will report to the base and also to the ATC (air traffic control centre).
“From what we know, from both the ATC recordings as well as our own (the base), there was no such distress signal or distress call.
“So, we are equally puzzled as well,” he said.