In a new twist to sudden disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane, authorities today 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 yesterday when it was found that four passengers with suspect identities were able to board the Boeing 777—200 Flight MH370 that went missing over the South China Sea enroute to Beijing from here.

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.

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 FBI, 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.”

“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 police have not classified terrorism attack behind the disappearance of the plane but are not ruling out any possibilities.

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

Terrorist attack?

The suspicious identities have fuelled speculation of a terrorist attack. A Malaysian security analyst said the sudden disappearance of flight MH370, which left Kuala Lumpur early Saturday bound for Beijing, bore similarities to the PanAm flight 103 bombing in 1988.

The sudden loss of contact indicated that whatever happened “did not give time for the pilot or any people onboard the plane to react,” he said.

Search and rescue workers from five countries have yet to spot any sign of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777—200 passenger jet, which was carrying 239 people from 14 countries.

“We have not been able to locate anything or see anything,” Azhaddin Abdul Rahman, deputy chief of Malaysia’s Civil Avian authority, told reporters.

Three Vietnamese rescue ships early Sunday reached the location of apparent oil slicks spotted from the air earlier, but found no sign of wreckage, and had not been able to confirm the slick, authorities said in Hanoi.

The United States was sending FBI agents and experts to help, the Los Angeles Times newspaper reported late Saturday.

The agents will help review video from the Kuala Lumpur airport for images of departing passengers that can be checked in the bureau’s vast counter—terrorism database, the report said.

At least three US citizens, and an infant who could be a US citizen, were on board the plane. “This gives us entree” to the case, the official told the LA Times, speaking on condition of anonymity.

(This article was published on March 9, 2014)
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