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Vietnam says it may have found door of missing Malaysian jet as intel look into stolen passports

- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2014

As Vietnam authorities reported Sunday they may have found a door belonging to the Malaysian Airlines jet that disappeared over the weekend, U.S. lawmakers Sunday openly considered the possibility that terrorism is to blame.

The Boeing 777 jetliner, carrying three Americans among its 239 passengers, seems to have vanished somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam after leaving Kuala Lumpur on Saturday morning en route to Beijing.

More than a day and half after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing, no confirmed debris from the plane had been found, but Vietnamese officials spotted an object offshore Sunday that they suspected was one of the plane’s doors. The object was spotted near the location where oil slicks were seen Saturday.

The ongoing investigation is now centered on two passengers who boarded the plane using stolen passports. The passports, one bearing the name of an Italian and the other an Austrian, somehow slipped through security screenings prior to the plane’s takeoff.

U.S. and international officials stress that it’s far too early to draw any conclusions, but some members of Congress believe the totality of circumstances may link the incident to terrorism.

“This is a real red flag. And there’s a number of factors. The fact that the plane just has disappeared, that there was no distress call, there was no mayday, there was no signaling at all of any trouble,” said Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday. “The fact that it came out of Malaysia, which has been a hub for al Qaeda activity ... All of that has to be run to ground because, again, we cannot make any conclusions. But considering what’s happened in the past, and considering where this occurred, and considering the stolen passports, we have to certainly consider the issue of terrorism and exhaust every possible investigative technique.”

Aside from terrorism, other causes also are being considered. Pilot error, engine failure and turbulence are among the other possibilities.

U.S. authorities, including the FBI, have joined an international team in the search for answers.

“It is too soon to tell what happened, why it happened, but what we’ve done is this — we’ve made available the FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board and other experts to aid in the investigation, to figure out what happened,” said White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “But right now it’s too early to tell what the cause was. I’ve seen these reports about the passports. We’re looking into that. But we don’t have anything we can confirm at this point.”

The jetliner’s final few minutes remain a mystery. The plane lost contact with ground controllers over the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam and apparently fell from the sky at cruising altitude during near-perfect weather. 

The plane also appeared to have begun to turn back from its intended route just before it lost contact.

“We are trying to make sense of this,” said Malaysia’s air force chief, Rodzali Daud, at a news conference. “The military radar indicated that the aircraft may have made a turn back, and in some parts this was corroborated by civilian radar.”

Meanwhile, European authorities have confirmed the names and nationalities of the two stolen passports. One was issued by Italy and bore the name Luigi Maraldi; the other originated in Austria under the name Christian Kozel.

The Maraldi passport was stolen on the island of Phuket last July, according to police in Thailand. 

The tickers obtained with the fake passports were bought together, raising further suspicion that the plane may have fallen victim to a terror plot.

“It’s not common, but it is not unheard of either that stolen passports can be repurposed,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “They would be doctored up. There could be individuals who would have the skill set to change those passports just enough that they could identify with the individual who was using it. [Investigators will] go back to the airport and make some determination through cameras and other means to try to identify the individuals and track that back. It’s very, very early.”

This article based in part on wire service reports.

 

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