March 10, 2014— -- Fingerprints and photos of two men who boarded the doomed Malaysia Airlines passenger jet are being sent to U.S. authorities so they can be compared against records of known terrorists and criminals.
The cause of the plane's disappearance has baffled investigators and they have not said that they believed that terrorism was involved, but they are also not ruling anything out.
The investigation into the disappearance of the jetliner with 239 passengers and crew has centered so far around the fact that two passengers used passports stolen in Thailand from an Austrian and an Italian. The plane which left Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was headed for Beijing. Three of the passengers, one adult and two children, were American.
Today Malaysia's Civil Aviation Chief Azaharuddin Abdul Rahman said officials had reviewed surveillance tape of the plane's boarding "from check-in right to departure."
When asked about the two men who used the stolen passports, Rahman replied, "We confirmed now they are not Asian looking males."
When pressed to describe them, he said indicated that one of the men is black.
Do you know a footballer by the name of Bartoli? Do you know what he looks like?" Rahman asked.
Reporters corrected him asking, "Mario Balotelli?" and asked whether the man with the stolen passport was black. Balotelli, who is black, is an Italian soccer player.
"Yes," Rahman replied.
Rahman refused to further describe the two men.
U.S. authorities plan to run the photos and fingerprints of the two men against databases of known criminals and terrorists in hopes of finding a match, a senior official said. Another senior counter-terrorist official said that finding out more about those two men could be the key to understanding how and why the flight suddenly disappeared mid-flight Saturday.
“Until we get more information on the two people using the stolen passports and ascertain whether they were involved, or they [search parties] find the debris and do forensics, it’s all just conjecture,” the counter-terrorism official said.
While there has been rampant speculation about the possible role of terrorism in the missing plane, the counter-terrorism official and other high-level U.S. officials have said so far there is no evidence to indicate that’s the case , beyond an unverifiable claim of responsibility by a little-known Asian extremist group.
“The U.S. is not picking up any intel, no chatter,” the counter-terrorism official said, referring to communications often intercepted by American intelligence in the wake of a terrorist attack that can often lead to clues about suspects. “The bad guys aren’t even discussing it… It’s an awkward situation. There is nothing from which to draw any firm conclusion yet.”
Rahmam, speaking about the surveillance video, also said, "I can confirm that all security protocols had been complied with."
Rahman indicated that investigators were not any closer to determining what happened to the Boeing 777 jet, a plane with an excellent safety record, or where the plane was. Samples from an oil slick off the southern coast of Vietnam determined it was not from the plane.
And Vietnam’s National Committee for Search and Rescue told ABC New that an orange object spotted floating in the ocean over the weekend originally thought to be a life raft from the plane had nothing to do with the plane wreckage,
During an earlier press briefing today, a reporter asked Malaysia's Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein about reports that a media personality received an open letter from the leader of Chinese Martyr Brigade claiming responsibility for the incident. When asked about the letter, a Malaysian official said, "Yes, there is sound ground to say it is true, but again, we have said from the beginning that we are not taking anything for granted."
But at the later news conference, Rahman said, "We don’t know what happened to the aircraft, so we cannot speculate... We cannot do guess work."
He said the search area was being expanded to include an additional expanse of ocean as well as land at the northern tip of Malaysia. The search grid was divided into boxes with individual ships assigned to each box. It was now nighttime in Asia, which brought a search by air to a halt. But he said planes would resume crisscrossing the search grid for signs of the plane at daybreak.
Dozens of aircraft and ships have contributed to the search, including crews from Vietnam, China, Singapore, Indonesia, the United States, Thailand, Australia and the Philippines, Rahman said at a press conference today.
The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet is using a P-3C Orion marine surveillance aircraft to search in the northern section of the Strait of Malacca today, according to the group’s Facebook page.