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One man with stolen passport identified

A 19-year-old Iranian was one of the two men with stolen passports on flight MH370. He was migrating illegally to Germany and investigators do not believe he had connections to terrorism. Nine News.

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Malaysia's military believes it tracked a missing jetliner by radar over the Strait of Malacca, far from where it last made contact with civilian air traffic control off the country's east coast, a military source told Reuters.

In one of the most baffling mysteries in recent aviation history, a massive search operation for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER, now in its fourth day, has so far found no trace of the aircraft or the 239 passengers and crew.

An Indonesia air force officer shows a map of Malacca Straits during a briefing prior to a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, at Suwondo air base in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia.

An Indonesia air force officer shows a map of Malacca Straits during a briefing prior to a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, at Suwondo air base in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo: AP

"It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," the military official, who has been briefed on investigations, said.

The Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia's west coast. The airline said on Saturday that radio and radar contact with Flight MH370 was lost off the east coast Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.

The development injects more mystery into the investigation of the disappearance of Saturday's flight, and raises questions about why the aircraft was not transmitting signals detectable by civilian radar.

A patrol vessel of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency searches for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane off Tok Bali Beach in Kelantan, Malaysia.

A patrol vessel of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency searches for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane off Tok Bali Beach in Kelantan, Malaysia. Photo: AP

Local newspaper Berita Harian quoted Malaysian air force chief General Rodzali Daud as saying radar at a military base had detected the airliner at 2:40 am near Pulau Perak at the northern approach to the strait, a  waterway that separates the western coast of Malaysia and Indonesia's Sumatra island.

"After that, the signal from the plane was lost," he was quoted as saying.

A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed the report and also said the plane was believed to be flying low.

Vietnam air force Colonel Duong Van Lanh looks at the navigation control panel aboard aircraft Antonov An-26 during a search mission for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over water between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Vietnam air force Colonel Duong Van Lanh looks at the navigation control panel aboard aircraft Antonov An-26 during a search mission for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over water between Malaysia and Vietnam. Photo: AP

Police had earlier said they were 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.

The plane left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early on Saturday morning, vanishing from civilian radar screens about an hour after take-off over the sea separating eastern Malaysia from the southern tip of Vietnam.

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.

Indonesian air force crewmen prepare a Boeing 737 "Surveiller" maritime patrol aircraft of the 5th Air Squadron "Black Mermaids"  for a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.

Indonesian air force crewmen prepare a Boeing 737 "Surveiller" maritime patrol aircraft of the 5th Air Squadron "Black Mermaids" for a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. Photo: AP

"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."

Stolen passports

A Malaysian police official displays photographs of the two men who boarded the Malaysia Airlines flight using stolen passports. The man on the left has been identified as Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, a 19-year-old Iranian asylum seeker. The man on the right is yet to be identified.

A Malaysian police official displays photographs of the two men who boarded the Malaysia Airlines flight using stolen passports. The man on the left has been identified as Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, a 19-year-old Iranian asylum seeker. The man on the right is yet to be identified. Photo: MANAN VATSYAYANA

Kuala Lumpur: Police have identified one of the passengers travelling on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane on a stolen passport as a 19-year-old Iranian seeking to illegally migrate to Germany.

However, Malaysia’s national police chief, Kalid Abu Bakar, told reporters the revelation that Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdr was travelling to meet his mother in Frankfurt does not make it any less likely the Boeing 777 was the target of terrorists.

"We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group, and we believe he was trying to migrate to Germany," Khalid said of the teenager. His mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact with authorities, he said.

Inspector Kalid said police are now focusing their investigations into the possibility of a hijacking or sabotage and are checking the psychological and personal backgrounds of all 239 people on board.

He said police are also looking into the possibility that a bomb was smuggled into the cargo hold of the plane, which was en-route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it vanished in the early hours of last Saturday morning.

"We are looking one by one into every area," he said.

Investigators suspect a catastrophic mid-air explosion caused by a bomb in the cargo hold or a highly unusual technical fault is likely to have led to the sudden disappearance of flight MH370, but have not ruled out a number of other possibilities.

Inspector Kalid said police have been in contact with Mr Pouria’s mother, who was expecting him to arrive in Fankfurt on flights booked by a Thailand-based people smuggling ring through Beijing and Amsterdam.

“When he didn’t arrive she knew something had happened,” he said.

The fact that at least two passengers on board had used stolen passports, confirmed by Interpol, has raised suspicions of foul play. But Southeast Asia is known as a hub for false documents that are also used by smugglers, illegal migrants and asylum seekers.

Both men entered Malaysia on February 28, at least one from Phuket, in Thailand, eight days before boarding the flight to Beijing, Malaysian immigration chief Aloyah Mamat told the news conference. Both held onward reservations to Western Europe.

Police in Thailand, where the passports were stolen and the tickets used by the two men were booked, said they did not think they were linked to the disappearance of the plane.

"We haven't ruled it out, but the weight of evidence we're getting swings against the idea that these men are or were involved in terrorism," Supachai Puikaewcome, chief of police in the Thai resort city of Pattaya, said.

Lindsay Murdoch with Reuters, AP