The two men said by Interpol to have been travelling on stolen passports on the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that mysteriously disappeared on Saturday have been identified as Iranian nationals.
Stolen passport passenger 'looks like Balotelli'
Malaysian aviation director says one of the two passengers with stolen passports aboard flight MH370 resembles an Italian fooballer, as desperate relatives descend on KL to be nearer the search.
A BBC Persia report quotes an Iranian friend of one of the men, who said he hosted the pair in Kuala Lumpur after they arrived from Tehran in the days preceding their flight to Beijing.
The friend, who knew one of the men from his school days in Iran, said the men had bought the fake passports because they wanted to migrate to Europe.
The pair were travelling on passports belonging to Christian Kozel, an 30-year-old Austrian, and Luigi Maraldi, a 37-year-old Italian.
They had bought the passports in Kuala Lumpur as well as tickets to Amsterdam, via Beijing.
One of the Iranian national's intended final destination was Frankfurt, where his mother lives, while the other wanted to travel to Denmark.
The same source that spoke to BBC Persia also emailed CNN with a photograph of him posing with his two friends in the days before they embarked on their fateful trip.
BBC Persia’s UN correspondent Bahman Kalbasi told The Telegraph that the two Iranians were “looking for a place to settle”.
Both Malaysia and neighbouring Thailand, where the passports were originally stolen, host large and established Iranian communities.
US-led sanctions on Iran have plagued the economy and encouraged many young Iranians, who face high unemployment, to seek ways to travel to Europe, North America or Australia – legally or illegally.
Investigators in Malaysia are also voicing scepticism that the airliner that disappeared early Saturday with 239 people on board was the target of an attack, US and European government sources close to the probe said.
Neither Malaysia's Special Branch, the agency leading the investigation locally, nor spy agencies in the United States and Europe have ruled out the possibility that militants may have been involved in downing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
But Malaysian authorities have indicated that the evidence so far does not strongly back an attack as a cause for the aircraft's disappearance, and that mechanical or pilot problems could have led to the apparent crash, the US sources said.
"There is no evidence to suggest an act of terror," said a European security source, who added that there was also "no explanation what's happened to it or where it is."
Meanwhile, dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 countries were still scouring the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam as questions mounted over possible security lapses that could have led to a downing of the Boeing 777-200ER after it climbed to an altitude of 10,670 metres.
Interpol confirmed on Sunday at least two passengers used stolen passports and said it was checking whether others aboard had used false identity documents.
Even so, one US source said Malaysian authorities were leaning away from the theory that the plane was attacked. Their view was mostly based on electronic evidence that indicates the flight may have turned back toward the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur before disappearing.
Telegraph UK, Reuters