As search for MH370 continues, police take close look at Uighur passenger, crew

File photo of Uighurs from Xinjiang Province posing for photos in front of a portrait of Mao Zedong before the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 3, 2013.
File photo of Uighurs from Xinjiang Province posing for photos in front of a portrait of Mao Zedong before the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 3, 2013.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — Malaysian police and Interpol are combing through the personal backgrounds of passengers and crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, and have confirmed they are taking a close look at a 35-year-old passenger of Uighur descent.

Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department director Datuk Hadi Ho Abdullah confirmed this in a report in the Malay language daily Harian Metro today.

“We will conduct further investigations into this matter,” he said, without divulging further details.

It is understood that the police have also searched the family homes of crew members including the pilot and co-pilot of the flight, as terrorism and sabotage has not been ruled out as a reason behind the disappearance of the airliner.

An unnamed source had told the daily that Malaysian police and Interpol are focusing their attention on this man because of the skills he possessed.

“We are not saying that he is involved in terrorism, suspected of sabotaging or hijacking the plane, it’s just that more attention is on him because of his background and we feel that there are important elements that have to be looked at,” the source was quoted as saying.

The Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic group primarily living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China.

It was reported that the group that killed at least 29 people and wounding 143 with long knives and daggers, in the Kunming railway station on March 1, were allegedly Muslim separatist militants from the western region of Xinjiang, suspected to be of Uighur descent.

According to the man’s curriculum vitae (CV) found online, he is a PhD holder and is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, at a Turkish university.

He was among 153 Chinese nationals on board MH370.

The Malay Mail Online is waiting for confirmation from the university to verify that that was his last position, prior to boarding the plane.

Besides extensive teaching and research experience in electronics, biomedical, and digital communications, the man had also spent slightly less than a year in 2004 as a researcher at a training and simulation centre in Sweden.

He “designed an integrated future soldier training system based on sensors, communication subsystems and integrated-helmet subsystems and performed simulations for real-time,” according to the CV.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft fell off Malaysia’s secondary radar at 1.30am on March 8. The plane carrying 239 passengers and crew members were supposed to report to the Vietnamese air traffic control after that but failed to do so.

The last location known was 120 nautical miles off Kota Baru, in the South China Sea. The plane was headed towards Beijing.

So far, no wreckage or signs of the aircraft and the people onboard have been found, even as 12 nations join the massive search, with 42 vessels and 39 aircraft.

The search area has also extended to the Straits of Malacca after the military’s primary radar detected an unidentified plane that made an air turn back near MH370’s last location, as well as detected an unidentified civilian aircraft 200 miles northwest of Penang, 45 minutes later. Authorities are still trying to identify the plane.

The assets are now combing 37,000 square nautical miles in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca, into the Andaman Sea, round the clock for vessels, and 12-hour operations during the day for airsearch.

* A previous version of this article contained details that could possibly identify incorrectly a person of Uighur descent who was not onboard MH370. The report has been edited to omit such references and any inconvenience is regretted.

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