Missing MH370: Iranians identified

A Malaysian police official displays photographs of the two men who boarded the Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight using stolen European passports, at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang yesterday.

The two passengers using stolen passports to board the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 were identified as Iranian nationals, but they were unlikely to have had any terrorist link, Malaysia and Interpol said.

Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble gave the men's names as Pouri Nourmoham-madi, 18, and Delavar Seyed-mohammaderza, 29. The men first used their Iranian passports to travel from Doha to Kuala Lumpur, and then boarded the MH370 flight using stolen Austrian and Italian passports, he said.

Malaysian police earlier named the man travelling on the Austrian passport as Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19. Interpol gave his birthday as April 30, 1995.

Speculation over a possible terrorist attack and lax security was waning "as belief becomes more certain that these two individuals were probably not terrorists" but "might just be people being smuggled or trafficked", Noble said. "The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident."

Noble also pointed to declarations by Malaysian police that one of the two was a 19-year-old Iranian illegal immigrant "wanting to travel to Frankfurt, Ger-many, to be with his mother".

The final destination for the other ticket was Copenhagen, according to travel documents seen by AFP.

Earlier, Malaysian Police Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar said Nourmohammadi, earlier identified as Mehrdad, travelled on the passport of Austrian Christian Kozel, who had reported it missing in Phuket last year.

"When he did not arrive there, his mother contacted the authorities. She was aware he was using a stolen passport," Khalid told The Star.

Aloyah Mamat, director-general of the Malaysian Immigration Department, said both impostors had entered Malaysia on February 28 and were issued 90-day social-visit passes. In both cases, the passport bearers matched the image on the bio-data page, she said.

Khalid said Malaysian police had been in touch with their counterparts in other countries, including Iran.

However, Malaysian police were still considering all possibilities in terms of criminal involvement in the plane's disappearance, he said when asked whether police thought the revelation made them consider terrorism less likely in the case.

"At this moment, I would not say less likely. Same weightage to all until we finish our investigations," he said.

Police were focusing their investigations on various hypotheses including hijacking, sabotage and psychological problems among passengers or crew, he added.

Thai and foreign police have been questioning two travel agents in Pattaya, where the tickets were bought for the two impostors.

Pattaya police chief Pol Colonel Suphachai Phuikaew-kham said both the tickets, bought for the travellers by two Iranians, were for travel on from Beijing to Europe.

If it was terrorism, they would have specified the route and airline, but they only asked for the cheapest ticket, he said.

The Thai wife of an Iranian called Asem paid Bt 51,000 for the tickets. Supachai identified him as Hasem, who he said was known to be in Pattaya. A second Iranian, who Supachai identified as Kazem Ali, had booked the tickets by telephone with a Pattaya travel agent. Ali was believed to be in Iran.

Police were probing all angles, including the possibility that these men were involved in human smuggling, as Ali had a relationship with the travel agency and had booked through them previously, very possibly for Iranian nationals, he said.

The Pattaya travel agent who booked the tickets for the two said the purchase had been arranged through an "Iranian contact", the Financial Times reported.