SEPANG, Malaysia - The search for the missing Malaysian jetliner should rise above politics, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Tuesday, after a British tabloid reported that the pilot, an opposition supporter, may have had a political motive to sabotage the plane.
"The search for MH370 is bigger than politics. I urge all Malaysians to put our differences aside and unite during this difficult time," Datuk Seri Hishammuddin told a press conference at the Sama-Sama Hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Tuesday.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim admitted that Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah is related to his daughter-in-law on Tuesday.
Mr Anwar said he met him several times as a member of his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and as a close friend of party vice-president R. Sivarasa. "But to politicise it is not right. We should respect the family's rights and pray for them instead of prosecuting him before the investigation is completed," Mr Anwar said at a press conference in Parliament.
Mr Sivarasa, a Member of Parliament, on Sunday refuted a British Daily Mail report characterising Mr Zaharie as a "political fanatic", saying the pilot had joined the party in January last year to help campaign in May elections.
Mr Hishammuddin dismissed a reporter's question of whether the police will question Mr Anwar over his links to Mr Zaharie.
"The government's focus is on MH370. We didn't bring this up," he said.
Police searched the homes of the pilot and his co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid after investigations showed the plane flew on for hours after it disappeared from radar, as the aviation mystery entered its fourteenth day.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said last Saturday that according to satellite data, the aircraft's turn away from its route to Beijing and the disabling of communication systems were consistent with "deliberate actions".
Malaysian police have taken a self-assembled flight simulator from Capt Zaharie's home.
Malaysia's Berita Harian quoted unnamed sources on Tuesday as saying that police found five runways on the simulator, including the United States base Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Male International Airport and three runways in India and Sri Lanka.
But Mr Hishammuddin is also facing heat for inviting only Barisan Nasional lawmakers to a special briefing on the crisiso on Tuesday night.
"How can this happen when this is a national matter? This is regretful," said Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh, who is from Mr Anwar's PKR, as reported by the Malay Mail Online.
Mr Hishammuddin was also queried by a French journalist on Tuesday on his relationship to Mr Najib and whether he has been shielded from criticism hurled at the Malaysian authorities over their handling of the search operations. "I confirm Najib is my cousin. I don't know what I am supposed to be protected from," he said during a daily press conference.
Mr Hishammuddin also shot down claims of Malaysia as a terrorist hub as investigations move to terrorism and hijacking motives.
"There is no basis, much less when linked to what is happening right now," he said. "I strongly deny claims of Malaysia as a terrorism hub."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.