KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia, under fire over its fruitless search for a missing airliner, on Friday denied it had hired a prominent Muslim shaman to stage bizarre rituals seeking divine guidance in the hunt.
An official religious watchdog in the Muslim-majority country also said it was sending personnel to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to prevent further occurences.
The rituals, captured in photos and videos that went viral and sparked ridicule for adding a farcical element to the grave situation, were staged this week by self-described faith healer Ibrahim Mat Zin.
On Wednesday, Ibrahim, 80, directed three assistants wearing business suits to sit on a tapestry as they lifted objects including large green coconuts over their heads.
"Regarding the presence of a 'bomoh' or shaman at KLIA, we would like to categorically state that neither the government, nor any of its agencies, had any role or involvement in the shaman's presence at the airport," a government statement said. Occult activities are banned by religious authorities in Malaysia as "un-Islamic" but many people still consult "bomohs" or shamans to seek supernatural help in personal matters and health issues.
Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing early on Saturday with 239 people aboard. A huge international search has failed to turn up any concrete sign of the plane's fate.
In another incident on Monday, Ibrahim's assistants held a traditional wooden fish trap in the air while he looked at it through two bamboo poles in a rite intended to seek clues to the plane's whereabouts.
Ibrahim initially claimed "high-ranking government officials" invited him to perform the rituals, media reports said. He later retracted that, saying he acted on his own.
A spokeswoman for an official watchdog in charge of policing Islamic practices confirmed to AFP its personnel were now patrolling the airport to prevent more such rituals. She declined further comment.
National news agency Bernama quoted a religious department official Hardi Sadali as saying: "We have advised (Ibrahim) not to perform the rituals like the ones he performed. If he persists, we will take action."
A YouTube video of the fish-trap ritual received more than 300,000 hits.
"This is way too much. Please have a little decency for the people who are suffering," said one of many critical comments posted in response on social media.
As in many parts of Asia, a belief in the supernatural remains widespread in Malaysia, a vestige of its pre-Islamic times hundreds of years ago.