Passenger With Stolen Passport Aboard MH370 Was Reportedly Seeking Asylum

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One of the passengers who flew on the still-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 using a stolen passport was seeking asylum in Europe, according to Malaysian authorities, and is likely not linked to a terrorist group.  

Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad, 19, was an Iranian man en route to Germany where his mother was waiting. He was traveling with the other passenger, not yet identified, who boarded the plane with false papers. Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a press conference that "We have been checking his background. We have also checked him with other police organizations of his profile and we believe that he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group." Khalid added that reports that five passengers had checked in, but not boarded the plane aren't true.

Mehrdad. AP/Wong Maye-E

According to the BBC, a friend of the passenger said that he was, in fact, seeking asylum: 

The authorities' statement supports an account given to the BBC by a young Iranian in Kuala Lumpur who says he was a school-friend of one of the men who boarded the airliner using a stolen passport. He says the friend and another Iranian, also using a stolen passport, stayed with him before taking the Malaysia Airlines flight, and that they had hoped to settle in Europe.

The presence of two suspicious passengers aboard Flight 370, which lost touch with ground control on Saturday and remains missing, fueled worries that terrorist activity led to the flight's demise. Authorities have not ruled out that possibility, but the discovery that at least one of the two passengers was seeking asylum will likely deflate the theory.

This means that international search teams are again without a clue. According to the Associated Press, they're now expanding the area of investigation to account for the plane's having possibly turned around, and in hopes of finding something: 

Malaysia Airlines said search and rescue teams have expanded the scope beyond the flight path to the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia's western coast and Indonesia's Sumatra island — the opposite side of Malaysia from its last known location. An earlier statement 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.

An officer shows a flight route. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 

Khalid said that authorities are looking at four possible reasons for the plane to have gone down, including hijacking, sabotage, and psychological or personal problems — like seeking insurance money for family — among the passengers and crew, in addition to possible mechanical problems. It will be difficult to figure out what happened aboard the plane until voice and data recorders are recovered from the aircraft, something that could take months, if they're found at all. It was nearly two years before much of the wreckage was found from Air France Flight 447, the plane that disappeared over the Atlantic in 2009 and is the closest officials have to a precedent for this case. 

So far, no debris linked to MH730 has been discovered. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.