The two men who boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with stolen passports have been identified as Iranians, but authorities today downplayed any possible connection to terrorism and the missing jetliner.
Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the first man, named Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, was likely trying to enter Germany to seek asylum. His mother contacted authorities after he didn't arrive in Frankfurt.
Interpol later identified the other man as Delavar Syed Mohammad Reza, 29.
An image from Interpol showed the two men boarding a plane at the same time. Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble said Tuesday the two men traveled to Malaysia on their Iranian passports, then apparently switched to the stolen Austrian and Italian documents.
Noble said the recent information about the men made terrorism a less likely cause of the plane's disappearance on March 8, but that did not allay concerns about the ease of travel involving stolen passports.
The announcements mark the first certain pieces of news in what has become a baffling mystery over the fate of the missing jetliner. Earlier Tuesday, authorities expanded their search for the Boeing 777 on the opposite side of the country’s coast from where it disappeared days ago with 239 people on board.
Khalid said investigators had not ruled out any possibility, including hijacking, sabotage or a personal motive to down the plane by either the crew or passengers. He also said that the police "had no prior information or intelligence about any involvement of terrorists."
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, on the western coast of Malaysia, early Saturday en route to Beijing. It flew overland across Malaysia and crossed the eastern coast into the Gulf of Thailand before disappearing from radar screens. The airline says the pilots didn't send any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.
In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said search and rescue teams "have expanded the scope beyond the flight path to the West Peninsula of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca." An earlier statement had said the western coast of Malaysia was "now the focus," but the airline subsequently said that phrase was an oversight.
"The search is on both sides," Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said.
Authorities are looking at a possibility that MH370 attempted to turn back toward Kuala Lumpur. If it did indeed retrace its path, the plane could conceivably have crashed into the sea on the western coast, the other side of Malaysia from where it was reported missing. But this doesn't explain why it did not continue to show on radar while flying back toward Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia Airlines or other authorities have not addressed that question.
"All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities," is all that the Malaysia Airlines statement said.
Malaysia's air force chief also said Sunday there were indications on military radar that the jet may have done a U-turn.
Potential clues discovered during the search have failed to bring authorities closer to the missing plane. Samples from an oil slick – as well as an orange object spotted floating in the ocean – had nothing to do with the plane wreckage, authorities said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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