KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — Two travellers who boarded the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 under stolen identities are Iranians who had planned to migrate to Germany and Denmark, Britain’s national broadcaster reported today.
A Persian-language news report on the BBC’s website quoted an unnamed individual who claimed to be a friend of one of the dubious duo, and had reportedly hosted the pair in Kuala Lumpur after they had arrived from Tehran for a layover before boarding the Beijing-bound flight last Saturday March 8.
The news was also picked up by UK daily The Telegraph, which ran an English-language report of the story.
The Telegraph added that the same anonymous source had emailed US broadcaster CNN a photograph of the trio in the days before the Beijing trip.
According to the report, the friend claimed to have known one of the men from his school days in Iran.
The friend also claimed the duo bought fake passports in Kuala Lumpur because they wanted to migrate to Europe, The Telegraph reported, citing information received from an editor at BBC’s Persian section.
The two Iranians were “looking for a place to settle”, the BBC Persian editor told The Telegraph.
According to its report, the two Iranians also bought tickets to Amsterdam, via Beijing; one of the Iranians wanted to travel to Denmark while the other had intended to fly further to Frankfurt, where his mother lives.
Malaysian authorities have confirmed that two people had boarded flight MH370 using stolen passports belonging to Christian Kozel, an 30-year-old Austrian, and Luigi Maraldi, a 37-year-old Italian, who had reported losing their passports while holidaying in Thailand in the last two years.
Malaysian authorities today said they could conclusively say that the two passengers who boarded flight MH370 using stolen passports were not Asian, though it has not brought them any closer to discovering their identities.
Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Razak said that investigators scrutinising the CCTV footage and screen captures of the two suspects confirmed that the suspects were not “Asian-looking” males.
“Do you know a footballer named Balotelli? They look like that,” he said at a late night news conference yesterday, referring to Italian national striker Mario Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents.
Despite the Balotelli reference, the DCA chief later said that he was not in a position to describe the appearance of the men or to infer their nationalities based on the CCTV footage and screen captures as investigators believe they may be part of a wider passport theft ring.
Azharuddin initially agreed when asked to verify if the suspects were “black”, but later backtracked when asked to confirm an earlier report quoting Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar as saying that one of the two passengers with stolen passports had been identified.
Azharuddin stressed that from the security aspect, the two unidentified passengers had complied with the entire set of international protocols from baggage check through check-in and boarding.
“I think they are not Asian... as I said, there is the angle that investigators are looking at involving a stolen passport syndicate,” he said, declining to explain further.
Flight MH370 bound for Beijing and carrying 239 people disappeared roughly one hour into its flight in the early hours of Saturday.
Three days since it vanished, a multi-country search operation has yet to yield any result.
There is intense speculation that an act of terrorism may have led to the airliner’s disappearance at 1.30am Saturday, especially after it was discovered that two passengers were travelling on passports stolen separately from an Italian and Austrian.
CNN reported the US Federal Bureau of Investigations is running through its database of thumbprints of the two passengers who used stolen passports to board the missing Malaysian jet that vanished over Southeast Asia four days ago.
The thumbprints were taken at the airport check-in in KL and were shared with intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world by the Malaysian government, according to CNN’s website.
Revelations of the two passengers out of 227 passengers onboard the missing MH370 had fuelled speculation that the plane was hijacked, adding to the multiple theories as to what has happened to the plane that had fell off the radar at 1.30am on March 8.
It has also led to questions of a security lapse at KL International Airport, although the Acting Transport Minister and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had said they “haven’t decided if there was a security risk at all”.