The mystery surrounding the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 deepened after officials arrested a group of 11 people, with alleged links to al-Qa’ida, on suspicion of involvement in the jet’s disappearance.
The suspects, aged between 22 and 55, were arrested in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and the state of Kedah last week.
Investigators, including the FBI and MI6, are said to have called for them to be questioned. They are alleged to be members of a new terror group and include students, odd-job workers, a young widow and business professionals.
An officer with the Counter Terrorism Division of Malaysian Special Branch said that the arrests had heightened suspicion that the flight’s disappearance may have been an act of terrorism.
"The possibility that the plane was diverted by militants is still high on the list and international investigators have asked for a comprehensive report on this new terror group," the officer said.
He added that some of the suspects had admitted planning "sustained terror campaigns" in Malaysia but had denied any involvement in the disappearance of the Boeing 777.
Flight MH370 went missing on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing almost two months ago, with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board. There has been no sign of any flight debris and no crash site has been found.
On Thursday Malaysia released a preliminary report on the final moments of MH370, detailing the route the plane probably took as it veered off course and the confusion that followed.
According to the five-page report by the Ministry of Transport, Malaysia did not launch an official search and rescue operation until four hours after the jet disappeared on 8 March, instead wasting precious time attempting to track it in the wrong country.
Angus Houston, the Australian official leading the search, said the authorities remain “totally committed to finding MH370”, but that it could take another eight to 12 months to recover any wreckage.
Senior officials from Malaysia, Australia and China are due to meet in Canberra next week to decide on the next steps in the search for the missing plane.
Additional reporting by agencies