Malaysia expands search area for missing jet
KUALA LUMPUR - Agence France-Presse
Indian sand artist Sudersan Pattnaik gives final touches on a sand sculpture with a message of prayers for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 - which vanished from radar early on March 8 somewhere at sea between Malaysia and Vietnam - at Puri beach, March 9. AFP photoMalaysia has expanded its search area for a missing jet after three days of scouring the sea failed to bring forth any confirmed sightings of wreckage, an official said Monday.
"The area of search has been expanded in the South China Sea," Civil Aviation Department chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said.
He added that besides searching in waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, authorities were also searching on land in Malaysia and off western Malaysia.
The Malaysia Airlines flight with 239 people aboard lost contact with air controllers early Saturday.
Thailand exposed as crime hub over MH370 stolen passports
Thailand's role as a hub for criminal networks using false documents is in the spotlight after two unknown passengers on vanished flight MH370 used passports stolen in the kingdom, sparking fears of a terror attack.
Two European names were on the passenger list for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, which disappeared in the early hours of Saturday en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
But neither Christian Kozel, an Austrian, nor Luigi Maraldi from Italy, ever boarded the plane -- instead two mystery passengers used their passports, which had been stolen from the men in separate incidents in Thailand.
The revelation has triggered a terror probe by Malaysian authorities, who are working with other intelligence agencies including the FBI.
"Thailand has been used by some international terrorist groups as a zone of operation, to raise funds or to plan attacks," said Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst on terrorism in South-East Asia.
In 2010, two Pakistanis and a Thai woman were arrested in Thailand on suspicion of making false passports for Al-Qaeda linked groups, as part of an international operation linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai and the Madrid train bombings in 2004.
But Banlaoi stressed that the false passports used on the Malaysia flight "could also be linked to other criminal activities, like illegal immigration".
"Thailand is a destination for international crime organisations who use it to secure travel documents, financial documents," a Thai intelligence source told AFP.
"It's not just linked to terrorism but to other crimes. It's a complex network, connected to other networks."
The intricate web includes Thais and foreigners, passport thieves, counterfeiters, intermediaries and clients, he said.
Thai police have announced an investigation into a possible passport racket on the resort island of Phuket -- Maraldi's passport was stolen there in 2013 and Kozel's on a flight from Phuket to Bangkok, according to authorities in Vienna.
Flight information seen by AFP shows that two tickets in Kozel and Maraldi's names were issued in Pattaya, a beach resort south of Bangkok, on March 6, 2014, and were paid for in Thai baht.
So far little has emerged about the passengers who used the stolen passports to board the vanished flight -- Malaysia said Monday it had identified one of the men using airport video surveillance, but would only reveal that he was not a Malaysian national.
Malaysia's interior minister had earlier said the suspect passengers had "Asian facial features", according to a report.