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Were terrorists behind missing Malaysia Airlines plane?

Last updated on: March 09, 2014 13:05 IST

Were terrorists behind missing Malaysia Airlines plane?

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In a new twist to sudden disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane, authorities on Sunday said intelligence agencies are probing how four persons with fake identities boarded the aircraft and counter-terrorism agencies of other countries have been alerted about it.

The red flags were raised on Saturday when it was found that four passengers with uspect identities were able to board the Boeing 777-200 Flight MH370 that went missing over the South China Sea en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

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Image: Rosmah Mansor (left), wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, cries with family members of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Putrajaya
Photographs: Zulfadli Zaki/Reuters

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The plane was carrying 227 passengers, including five Indians and an Indian-origin Canadian, and 12 crew members when it suddenly disappeared from the radar one hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities were looking at four possible cases of suspect identities.

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Image: A military search and rescue ship is seen before departing to search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a port in Vietnam's Phu Quoc island.
Photographs: Nguyen Phuong Linh/Reuters

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On two impostors who boarded the flight using passports lost by an Italian and an Austrian, he said the authorities would screen the entire manifest of the flight. He did not mention the nationalities of the other two but said intelligence agencies were in contact with their international counterparts, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on the issue.

"We have also informed the counter-terrorism units of all relevant countries," he said. "If it is an international network, the Malaysian immigration alone will not be sufficient." Hishamuddin said the entire flight manifest was also under scrutiny, saying, “If there was a security risk, we will look into where the lapse was."

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Image: Arni Marlina, 36, a family member of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, shows a family picture on her mobile phone, at a hotel in Putrajaya.
Photographs: Samsul Said/Reuters

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"We do not want to target only the four; we are investigating the whole passenger manifest. We are looking at all possibilities," he added. The list of passengers on board include 154 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, 7 Indonesians, 6 Australians, 5 Indians, 4 Americans and 2 Canadians.

"At this point, we have not established if there was a security risk involved (and) we do not want to jump the gun," Hishammuddin told reporters when asked if hijack or terror elements could be behind in the disappearance of the flight.

Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said the police have not classified terrorism attack behind the disappearance of the plane but are not ruling out any possibilities.

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Image: Arni Marlina, 36, a family member of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, cries at a hotel in Putrajaya.
Photographs: Samsul Said/Reuters

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He said the police will investigate all angles on the missing plane and obtain CCTV footage from Kuala LumpurInternationalAirport.

Malaysian authorities are also looking into the possibility of an air turn back that could have been undertaken by the missing plane, a senior minister said. In an air turn back, a plane returns to its airport of origin as a result of a malfunction or suspected malfunction of any item on the aircraft. Meanwhile, a Boeing 777 pilot, who was flying 30 minutes ahead of the missing aircraft, said he established contact with MH370 minutes after he was asked to do so by Vietnamese air traffic control.

The captain said his plane, which was bound for Narita, Japan, was in Vietnamese airspace when he was asked to relay, using his plane's emergency frequency, to MH370 for the latter to establish its position, as the authorities could not contact the aircraft.

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Image: A journalist (left) scuffles with another (centre, with glasses) as they wait for relatives of passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at a hotel in Beijing.
Photographs: Jason Lee/Reuters

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"We managed to establish contact with MH370 just after 1.30am (Saturday) and asked them if they have transferred into Vietnamese airspace.

"The voice on the other side could have been either (of) Captain Zaharie (Ahmad Shah, 53,) or Fariq (Abdul Hamid, 27), but I was sure it was the co-pilot. There were a lot of interference...static...but I heard mumbling from the other end. That was the last time we heard from them, as we lost the connection," he told the New Sunday Times.

He said those on the same frequency at the time would have heard the exchange. This, he said, would include vessels on the waters below, the daily said. However, a Malaysia Airlines official who was present at  Hishamuddin's press conference denied that any other pilot had made contact with MH370 shortly before it disappeared.

 


Image: A military aircraft (left) taxis on the runway in hazy weather at the Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh city March 9, 2014 after a search and rescue mission to find Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Photographs: Reuters/Kham

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