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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

China has not ruled out terrorism

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BEIJING: China has not ruled out terrorism is the disappeance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in which 153 Chinese/Taiwanese were on board.

The China Daily newspaper wrote in an editorial that the fact that some of the passengers on board were travelling with false passports should serve as a reminder to the whole world that security can never be too tight.

Mystery of MH370

"Terrorism, the evil of the world, is still trying to stain human civilisation with the blood of innocent lives," it said.

Some family members are saying they would not go to Kuala Lumpur today as there has been no information forthcoming.

"There is more we can do here in China," one woman told AFP. "They haven't even found the plane yet."

The lack of information is also said to have irked Chinese authorities.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was quoted as saying that the Chinese government wanted "the Malaysian side to step up their efforts to speed up the investigation and provide accurate information to China in a timely fashion".

"They should also properly manage work related to family members of passengers and follow-up issues," he added.

Qin noted that "the incident is still under investigation", but China's state-run media minced no words, lashing out at Malaysia and its national carrier over its handling of the missing jet, demanding answers despite the early stage of the investigation.

"The Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities," the Global Times newspaper, which is close to China's ruling Communist Party, wrote. "There are loopholes in the work of Malaysia Airlines and security authorities."

For its part, MAS said in a statement that it is deploying an additional aircraft today "to bring the families from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur".

Malaysia's acting Transport Mini­ster Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, however, denied the allegation that Chinese authorities are unhappy with how Malaysia is handling the matter.

"Far from it." he said. "We are cooperating very closely on three aspects, namely search and rescue operation, identifying those who travelled on false passports and dealing with the families of the passengers.

"We have been in contact from the outset with China. Now, there is a special task force stationed here to help us on the three aspects," he said. "I have had a long discussion with the Chinese parties and from the ministries. The ambassador has seen first-hand what we are doing."

The aircraft's disappearance came one week after a deadly attack at a train station in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, in which a group of knife-wielding assailants killed 29 people and wounded 143.

Both Beijing and Washington have condemned the mass stabbing as an act of terror, with Chinese authorities blaming it on separatists from the restive far western region of Xinjiang.

Even as information remains sparse and the hours tick by, many relatives in Beijing continue to believe that the passengers may yet be found, according to one US-trained psychologist who counselled about 20 families awaiting news at a hotel.

"I think most of them are holding onto that thin ray of hope," he said. "Whether they believe it to be realistic or not, most of them are not letting it go." — Agencies

Case of duo with stolen identities leads investigators to two travel agencies

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BANGKOK: Two passports stolen in Thailand and later used to board the Malaysia airliner that vanished with 239 people on board were never used to leave the kingdom, the commander of the investigation division at the Immigration Bureau revealed.

It is believed the passports were stolen and taken out of Thailand without being used at immigration checkpoints, Pol Maj-Gen Warawut Taweechaikarn said yesterday.

Mystery of MH370

The officer said criminals faced difficulties producing fake passports due to sophisticated anti-counterfeiting techniques, so resorted to buying real passports from gangs of thieves, which targeted foreign tourists in Thailand.

The gangs would replace the passport holders' photos and alter certain information in the documents before using them, he added.

Fears that terrorism may be linked to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 arose after Austria and Italy said passports used by two male passengers were stolen from their citizens.

Interpol said in a statement that at least two passports recorded in its database, one Austrian and one Italian, were used by passengers on the flight after being reported stolen in Thailand.

Two passengers using Italian and Austrian passports of Luigi Maraldi, 37, and Christian Kozel, 30, had consecutive ticket numbers, according to the Chinese e-ticket verification system Travelsky.

Both tickets were issued on March 6, according to the website of China Southern Airlines Co, which was a code-share on the flight.

Thai police and Interpol investigated two travel agencies – Six Stars Travel and Grand Horizon – where two persons suspected of using fake passports tried to buy tickets.

Six Stars eventually issued online tickets, after receiving copies of the passports, police said. They are still looking into the transaction with Grand Horizon, which had passed on the purchase to Six Stars.

Britain's Financial Times quoted Benjaporn Krutnait, owner of the Grand Horizon travel agency, as saying an Iranian, a long-term business contact whom she knew only as "Mr Ali", had first asked her to book cheap tickets to Europe for the two men on March 1.

Benjaporn initially reserved one of the men on a Qatar Airways flight and the other on Etihad. But the tickets expired when Benjaporn did not hear from Ali.

When he contacted her again on Thursday, she rebooked the men on the Malaysia Airlines flight through Beijing because it was the cheapest available, the paper said.

A friend of Ali paid Benjaporn cash for the tickets, the paper reported, adding that there is no evidence that Ali knew the two men were travelling on stolen passports.

Benjaporn said she did not believe Ali was linked to terrorism, particularly as he had not specified booking the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight but had instead asked for the cheapest route to Europe, Financial Times reported.

Benjaporn was quoted as saying that she was speaking about the case because she was concerned over the speculation about a terrorist attack and wanted the facts to be known.

Thai police said Pattaya had no record of the stolen passports.

Police have yet to pin down suspects.

"We still don't have any information on suspects, because they used the copy of the fake passports so they can be issued tickets," Supachai said.

Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst on terrorism in South-East Asia said Thailand had been used by some international terrorist groups as a zone of operation, to raise funds or to plan attacks.

But Banlaoi stressed that the false passports used on the Malaysia flight "could also be linked to other criminal activities, like illegal immigration".

"It's not just linked to terrorism but to other crimes. It's a complex network, connected to other networks," said a Thai Intelligence source. — Agencies

Powerful 6.9 quake strikes off US coast

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

LOS ANGELES: A powerful 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern California, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of damage or a tsunami threat.

The quake struck at 0518 GMT (1.18am Malaysian time) with an epicentre located 77km west-northwest of the town of Ferndale and at a depth of 7km, said the USGS, which monitors earthquakes worldwide.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, but early reports indicate the quake was felt as far away as San Francisco, around 400km south of Ferndale.

Authorities in Humboldt County, the part of sparsely-populated northern California some 400km up the coast from San Francisco, said they had no calls about damage of injuries, local media reported.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a bulletin announcing the quake, but downplayed any danger.

"A widespread destructive tsunami threat does not exist based on historical earthquake and tsunami data," the Center said.

The USGS said there is a 90% probability of a "strong and possibly damaging aftershock" of magnitude 5 or more in the next seven days, and a 5-10% chance of a quake equal to or great than Sunday's temblor. — AFP


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