International police authorities said on Tuesday that two passengers known to have used stolen passports to board a missing Malaysia Airlines jet were unlikely to be linked to terrorist groups, echoing an assessment by the Malaysian police that one of them was a 19-year-old Iranian who wanted to migrate to Germany.
The passenger, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad, who was using a passport that had been stolen from an Austrian man, was traveling to Germany, where he was to meet his mother, said Khalid Abu Bakar, the inspector general of the Malaysian police.
"We are in contact with his mother," Mr Khalid said at a news conference.
Interpol identified the second Iranian traveller as Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, who used a stolen Italian passport, and released a photograph of the two men boarding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the same time. Interpol also confirmed the identity of the other Iranian, Mehrdad, but gave his age as 18. The source of the discrepancy was unclear.
Mr Khalid said that the two men traveling on stolen passports on Flight MH370 had arrived in Malaysia on the same day, February 28
Speaking to reporters at Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, France, on Tuesday, Ronald K. Noble, the agency's secretary-general, said the evidence emerging about the two passengers suggested that they were not likely to be linked to any terror groups.
"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident," Mr Noble said.
He added that the two men had travelled to Kuala Lumpur on Iranian passports before using the stolen Italian and Austrian passports to board the ill-fated Malaysian flight.
Mr Noble praised the Iranian authorities for their cooperation in confirming the identities of the two men. He said Tehran officials had also determined that neither of the men had a criminal record and that both had left Iran legally.
The connection to Iran seemed to unsettle the authorities in Tehran, where a prominent lawmaker called the reports implicating two Iranians "psychological warfare."
"Americans recruit some people for such kinds of operations so they can throw the blame on other countries, especially Muslim countries," said Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, the spokesman for Parliament's foreign policy committee.
Thousands of Iranians seeking to leave their home country wait in Asian countries with friendly visa regulations to make the second part of their migration to the West and to Australia. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are popular jumping-off points for middle-class Iranians who arrive on tourist visas and are helped by local travel agents and by people smugglers to travel to the West.
In Tehran, despite the lawmaker's accusations, the Iranian Foreign Ministry struck a more cooperative note.
"We have received information on the possible presence of two Iranians" aboard the plane and "we are pursuing the issue," said Marzieh Afkham, the spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry. "We have informed our embassy in Malaysia that we are ready to receive further information about the issue from Malaysian officials. We have announced that we were ready for cooperation," she said.
In the first detailed comments by the police here since Flight MH370 disappeared Saturday en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, Mr Khalid said that the police were still investigating the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage and possible psychological or personal problems among the crew and passengers. Other agencies in Malaysia continue to investigate non-criminal explanations for the aircraft's disappearance.
Mr Khalid said that previous reports by Malaysian officials that five passengers had failed to board the flight were false. "Everybody that booked the flight boarded the plane," he said.
Police in the Thai resort town of Pattaya said that they had questioned an Iranian man who paid cash for the tickets of the two passengers who travelled on false passports. The man they questioned, Hashem Saheb Gharani Golestani, 51, runs a frame shop in Pattaya and was a friend of another Iranian, a frequent customer of a local travel agency, who booked the tickets from abroad, the police said. Mr Hashem was released after questioning, the police said.
The stolen passports used to board Flight MH370 had been taken during the past two years in Phuket, another Thai beach resort. Both destinations attract budget tourists from Russia, China, Europe and the Middle East and have become centers of crime, particularly human trafficking and the counterfeiting of travel documents.
The fact that two passengers on Flight MH370 carried the passports of an Italian and an Austrian that had been stolen in Thailand, and travelled on tickets bought in Thailand by an Iranian who does not live there, has raised the possibility that the passengers were part of a people-trafficking scheme.
An Iranian, Seyed Ramin, suspected of commanding one of Southeast Asia's biggest human-trafficking and counterfeit passport syndicates, was arrested in Pattaya in June 2012. But the police chief in Pattaya, Colonel Supachai Phuikaewkhum, said in an interview on Tuesday that he had found no connection between Mr Hashem, whom he described as "coming and going" from Iran to Pattaya, and Seyed Ramin.
The one-way tickets bought for the passengers were routed from Kuala Lumpur with a transit stop in Beijing, according to Benjaporn Krutnait, the manager of the Grand Horizon travel agency. One ticket then went to Copenhagen, the other to Frankfurt, she said Monday.
New York Times