Man with stolen passport on missing jet is asylum seeker

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A man traveling with a stolen passport on a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner was an Iranian teenager trying to migrate to Germany, and is not believed to have any terrorist links, police 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 a second passenger also traveling with a stolen passport has not been identified. Both bought their tickets in Thailand and entered Malaysia together.


SEE ALSO: Missing Malaysian airliner: ‘There isn’t anything that isn’t strange about this’


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.

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, who was planning to enter Germany to seek asylum.

“We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group,” Khalid said.

He said the young 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.

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