A group that calls itself the Chinese Martyrs' Brigade has claimed responsibility for crashing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which has remained missing after losing contact with ground control at 1:20am on Saturday.
The previously unheard-of group sent a PDF statement to various journalists in China on March 9, saying, "You kill one of our clan, we will kill 100 of you as pay back."
The majority of Chinese media outlets have expressed skepticism over the statement or dismissed it outright, suggesting it is likely a hoax made up by opportunists looking to inflame ethnic tensions following a series of attacks by separatists in northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region and a mass stabbing in the Yunnan capital of Kunming this month that left at least 33 people dead.
Analysts say the credibility of the statement is dubious as the group claiming responsibility for flight MH370 did not divulge any details as to how it crashed the plane. The PDF statement was also sent via the encrypted Hushmail anonymous remailer service which cannot be replied to or easily traced.
Chinese authorities have not responded to the statement or its claims.
The Boeing 777-200 commercial jet, carrying 239 people including 153 Chinese citizens and a Taiwanese national, was scheduled to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Malaysia Airlines said it was not ruling out any possibilities, including terrorism, after it was discovered that two of the passengers aboard the flight were carrying stolen passports.
Malaysia's home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has confirmed following review of closed-circuit television footage that the two passengers are of Asian appearance, which raises questions over the adequacy of customs security given that the passports were stolen from an Italian and an Austrian national.
A spokesperson for Malaysia Air, however, said that all the photographs had matched the passports of the passengers.
Records show that the two passengers had booked their flights together with China Southern, which was codesharing MH370 with Malyasia Air. It was the first time the passports had been used since they were stolen in Thailand in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Two other suspect identities are also being checked as Malaysian authorities continue to work with international agencies including the FBI. One of them is a Chinese passenger surnamed Zhao whose passport number is identical to that of a 37-year-old Fuzhou man surnamed Yu.
Yu told authorities that the passport has never been used and remains in his safe at home after he applied for it in 2007. Fuzhou police said they suspect the passport number on the manifest may have been printed in error.