Missing Malaysian flight: Iranian asylum seekers stole passports - KMSP-TV

Missing Malaysian flight: 2 passengers with stolen passports identified

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Real-time flight tracker flightradar24 offers some information on Malaysian Airlines flight 370 -- but not enough to help guide rescue workers. (flightradar24) Real-time flight tracker flightradar24 offers some information on Malaysian Airlines flight 370 -- but not enough to help guide rescue workers. (flightradar24)
(FOX NEWS) -

Interpol said Tuesday that the two passengers who used stolen passports to board a Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared early Saturday morning were Iranians seeking asylum in Europe.

Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble identified the men as Pouri Nourmohammadi, 19, and Delavar Seyedmohammaderza, 29. Noble said that the two men had traveled to Malaysia from Tehran using Iranian passports, but had secured stolen Italian and Austrian passports in Kuala Lumpur for their journey to Beijing and Amsterdam, for which both had tickets and planned to travel together.

Malaysian authorities said that Nourmohammadi planned to proceed from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Germany, where his mother lives. The woman contacted authorities when her son failed to arrive as planned. The BBC reported that Seyedmohammaderza's intended final destination was Copenhagen, Denmark.

The disclosure by Interpol confirmed a report aired late Monday by the BBC's Persian service, which cited a friend of both men who hosted them at his home in Kuala Lumpur as they prepared to travel to Beijing, the final destination of the missing plane.

Over the weekend, the passports were identified as belonging to 30-year-old Austrian Christian Kozel and 37-year-old Italian Luigi Maraldi. Both men had reported that their passports had been stolen while they were traveling in Thailand.

It was not made immediately clear how the passports were sent from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur.

Sources told Fox News it is not uncommon for Iranians to travel to and from Malaysia, or to buy one-way tickets through third parties. They said the fact that the man believed to have purchased the tickets on behalf of two Iranians traveling with stolen passports seemed to be seeking the cheapest fares within a range of dates does not jibe with typical terrorism plots. The sources familiar with Iranian travel patterns also said use of stolen passports is common for those involved in the drug trade, those wanting to study or work abroad and even Iranians who seek political, religious or social refuge.

A BBC Persian editor told Britain's Daily Telegraph that the Iranians were "looking for a place to settle." Both Malaysia and Thailand are home to large Iranian communities.

"We know that once these individuals arrived in Kuala Lumpur on the 28th of February they boarded flight 370 using different identities, a stolen Austrian and a stolen Italian passport," Noble said, according to Reuters. But he added that Interpol believes no other suspect passports were used to board the plane.

"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident," he said.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished from radar screens early Saturday local time with 239 people on board, shortly after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur. In the absence of any sign that the plane was in trouble before it vanished, speculation has ranged widely, including pilot error, plane malfunction, hijacking and terrorism. The last theory had focused on the reports that two stolen passports had been used by passengers on the plane.

Earlier Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines said that the search for the missing plane had extended beyond its flight path, with the focus turning to "the West Peninsular of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca," the other side of the country from where Flight 370 was last located when it disappeared. No debris from the plane has been found.

Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the statement didn't imply authorities believed the plane was off the western coast.

"The search is on both sides," he 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.

Assuming the plane crashed into the ocean or disintegrated in midair, there will likely still be debris floating in the ocean, but it may be widely spread out, and much may have already sunk. In past disasters, it has taken days or longer to find wreckage.

The United States has sent two navy ships, at least one of which is equipped with helicopters, and a Navy P-3C Orion plane with sensors that can detect small debris in the water. It said in a statement that the Malaysian government has done "tremendous job" organizing the search efforts.

Vietnam's deputy military chief also said he had ordered a land search for the plane up to border with Laos and Cambodia. He said that military units near the border with Laos and Cambodia had been instructed to search their regions also.

"So far we have found no signs (of the plane) ... so we must widen our search on land," said Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnamese People's Army.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Daily newspaper said Beijing had deployed 10 satellites that will use high-resolution earth imaging capabilities and other technology to "support and assist in the search and rescue operations for the Malaysian Airlines aircraft."

The Chinese satellites will also help in weather monitoring, communication and search operations in the area where the plane disappeared, Reuters quoted the newspaper as saying.

The announcements reflect the difficulty authorities are having in finding the plane. China has urged Malaysia to speed up the search for the plane. About two-thirds of passengers and 12 crew members on the plane were Chinese, according to Reuters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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