Missing MH370: Terrorism 'cannot be ruled out yet'

This reproduction of Malaysian police handout photographs shows 19-year-old Iranian Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad (left) and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, who both boarded the missing MH370 flight using stolen European passports.

Do not rule out terrorism just because no terrorist group has claimed responsibility yet for the disappearance of MH370, security experts told The Sunday Times.

They pointed out that the Al-Qaeda terror network, which has made a speciality of using hijacked planes as weapons of mass destruction, is known to take its time before claiming responsibility.

After the Sept 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, its leader Osama bin Laden waited until 2004 to make a televised appearance, admitting for the first time that he ordered the attacks.

"It's the Al-Qaeda style where they don't claim responsibility immediately," said Dr Bilveer Singh, a counter-terrorism expert. "They see themselves as God's warriors and don't worry about the media and publicity."

Another intelligence analyst said: "Until you know the facts of what happened to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, any scenario is possible, including terrorism."

American terrorism expert and academic, Professor Graham Allison, said via e-mail that the reasons why the jet went missing may not be determined for months, if at all. "Until then, we shouldn't rule out any possibilities," he said.

He said three questions need to be asked in probing the possibility of a terror strike, and these can be applied to MH370:

Do terrorists have the means? Yes, there is a long history of hijackings from the 1970s. Four of the hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were trained pilots.

Is there a motive? Yes, there are bad guys who wish to do ill in South-east Asia.

Are there opportunities? Yes, there are vulnerable targets in South-east Asia and the airline industry is one of them, he said. "In an open society, no defence is impermeable," he noted.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said Al-Qaeda planned three times to attack Singapore.

In a 1995 plot, Operation Bojinka, plans were made to explode bombs in jets flying to 12 destinations in the Asia-Pacific region. There were plans to plant a bomb that would explode mid-air after taking off from Changi Airport.

While planning for the 9/11 operation in late 1998, Al-Qaeda operatives planned to hit Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Osama bin Laden liked this plan but told his men to concentrate on the US.

In the third plot, Jemaah Islamiah leader Mas Selamat Kastari fled Singapore when investigations into the Singapore JI terrorist network started in December 2001.

While on the run, he plotted to hijack a plane from Bangkok and crash it into Changi Airport, but the plan was foiled.

The Soufan Group, which provides strategic security intelligence services to organisations, said earlier this month that Al-Qaeda's ideology of violent extremism still resonates with a small but lethal segment of its affiliate organisations.

These groups tend to stick with what has worked and aviation remains a symbol of modernity and globalisation, said the group.

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