Police investigating the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 say that “all passengers” are being profiled for clues, after it emerged the two passengers travelling with stolen European passports were not thought to have any links to terrorist groups.
Authorities have also expanded the area of their search for the missing Boeing 777 in the wake of new Malaysian military radar data, which suggests the jet turned back and flew over the Straits of Malacca.
Officials coordinating the operation, now into its fourth day, earlier held up photographs of the two men who boarded the plan with stolen passports, and said one was a 19-year-old Iranian who was believed to be trying to seek asylum in Germany.
Interpol secretary general Ronald K Noble later named him as Pouri Nourmohammadi, and identified the other man as Delavar Seyedmohammaderza, 29 years old and also Iranian.
Mr Noble said the men, both Iranian passport holders, had swapped them in Kuala Lumpur for the stolen Italian and Austrian documents.
Speaking about the disappearance of the Boeing 777 as a whole, he added that: “The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident.”
Police said they were now investigating whether any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that might explain its disappearance, along with the possibility of a hijack, sabotage or mechanical failure.
There was no distress signal or radio contact indicating a problem and, in the absence of any wreckage or flight data, police have been left trawling through passenger and crew lists for potential leads.
“Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all possibilities,” Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference.
“We are looking very closely at the video footage taken at the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), we are studying the behavioural pattern of all the passengers,” he said.
Meanwhile, officials confronting the “unprecedented mystery” of the missing jet have extended the area of their search.
Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the head of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Authority, said both an oil slick and a yellow object, initially thought to be to a life raft, had proved to have no link to the aircraft.
“Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” he said. “As far as we are concerned, we have to find the aircraft. We have to find a piece of the aircraft if possible.”
In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said the western coast of the country, near the Straits of Malacca, was “now the focus” of the hunt. That is on the other side of peninsular Malaysia from where flight 370 was reported missing, meaning if the plane went down there it would have had to fly over the country.
Civil aviation authorities last made contact with the plane off the east coast Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.
Today, a military official said: “It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait.”
Mr Rahman said earlier this didn't mean the authorities believed the plane was now more likely to be off the western coast. “The search is on both sides,” he said.
The search area has now been extended by a 100km radius. Planes and ships from 10 countries are currently scouring the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam for a trace of the jet which went missing with 227 passengers and 12 crew.
He said officials had set no time-frame for the search and referred to the search for Air France flight 447 which went missing in 2009 on route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 228 aboard.
It took investigators two years to locate the black box recorders and three years to piece together what happened. A report eventually blamed a combination of technical failure and pilot error.
“The experts have said this is a very big area for us to cover,” Mr Rahman said of the area currently being searched. “ We all have to work together to find this aircraft... It will take as long as it takes to find the aircraft.”