SEPANG/LYON - The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with 239 people on board was unlikely to be caused by a terrorist attack, Interpol said on Tuesday, as the two men travelling with stolen passports were identified as Iranian.
Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, was travelling with a stolen Austrian passport, Malaysian authorities said, adding that he was heading to Franfurt, Germany to meet his mother.
The other man, Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, 30, was travelling on a stolen Italian passport, Interpol told reporters at a separate news conference.
Both men had arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 28 and left Malaysia on Mar 7 on board flight MH370.
Head of Interpol Ronald K. Noble said on Tuesday that the two men were believed to have travelled to Kuala Lumpur via Doha using Iranian passports that were not reported stolen.
"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it was not a terrorist incident," media reports quoted him as saying in Lyon, France.
"If you read what the head of police of Malaysia said...about the 19-year-old... wanting to travel to Frankfurt, Germany in order to be with his mother, it is part of a human smuggling issue and not a part of a terrorist issue," Mr Noble said.
"And from Interpol's perspective the fear or the concern we should all have is that more than a billion times each year there are people that either cross borders or board planes without having passports screened against Interpol's database."
Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar also ruled out possible terror links in the case of Pouria.
"We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group. We believe he is trying to migrate to Germany," said Mr Khalid.
As it was the first time that both men had entered Malaysia, there was no prior record of their biometrics with the Malaysian immigration, said Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Asmawati Ahmad. Their biometrics were taken on the day they arrived in Malaysia and hence these would match the record when they departed on Mar 7.
Agence France Presse (AFP) quoted Thai police as saying a suspected Iranian people smuggler had booked the tickets for the two men on flight MH370 through travel agencies in Pattaya, a seedy seaside city renowned for its flourishing sex industry.
The man, named as "Mr Ali", reserved the seats under the names of two Europeans whose passports were stolen in the kingdom.
"We believe that these two passports were stolen by a human smuggling gang who send people to work in third countries, especially European countries," Police Lieutenant General Panya Maman, commander of southern region police, told AFP.
He said "Mr Ali" was believed to live in Malaysia and has links to a gang that specialises in smuggling Middle Eastern people to Europe via third countries. The ring has connections in Pattaya and the Thai resort island of Phuket.
Meantime, Iran offered its assistance to the Malaysian investigation into the two Iranian nationals, according to the AFP report.
"We are offering our cooperation to obtain more information," foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said, pledging that Tehran would provide "any information on the Iranians and their status as soon as it is available."
- Malaysia says Mr Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at 8.28pm and used an Austrian passport under the name of Mr Christian Kozel to clear immigration. Mr Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, 30, arrived at the airport around the same time, and used an Italian passport under the name of Mr Luigi Maraldi to gain entry. The two Iranians were given a 90-day social visit pass.
- Interpol, however, says the two men entered Malaysia using Iranian passports, neither of which was stolen or lost, and swopped them for the stolen ones later. The agency also says both men came to Malaysia from Doha, whereas Malaysia was vague about where they originally travelled from.
- Malaysia says Mr Pouria turned up at KLIA’s immigration counter K30 at 10.07pm that day with a boarding pass for flight MH370 to Beijing and the stolen Austrian passport. Mr Delavar arrived at immigration counter K31 about 40 minutes later with the stolen Italian passport. Both were allowed to continue on their journey.
- Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble said it appeared increasingly certain “these two individuals were probably not terrorists”.
- Flight MH370 departs KLIA at 12.41am. It lost contact with air traffic control at about 1.30am.