There's still no word on the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared from radar last night. But earlier today, the story took a potentially frightening turn when it was revealed that two of the passengers were traveling on stolen passports.
After the airline released a manifest of the 239 people on the plane, Austria denied that one of its citizens was on the flight as the list had stated. The Austrian citizen was safe and sound, and his passport had been stolen two years ago, Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss told CNN.According to the New York Times, the Austrian has been identified as Christian Kozel.
Similarly, Italy's foreign ministry confirmed that no Italians were on the flight, even though an Italian was listed on the manifest. Malaysian officials said they were aware of reports that the Italian's passport was also stolen but had not confirmed it.
On Saturday, Italian police visited the home of the parents of Luigi Maraldi -- the man whose name appeared on the manifest -- to inform them about the missing flight, said a police official in Cesena, in northern Italy.
Maraldi's father, Walter, told police that he had just spoken to his son, who was fine and not on the missing flight, said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media. Maraldi was vacationing in Thailand, his father said. The police official confirmed that Maraldi had reported his passport stolen in Malaysia last August and that he had obtained a new passport.
When CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director, found out about this, he said Malaysia Airlines could have kept whoever was using those passports from getting on the plane.
Fuentes said that Interpol, the international law enforcement agency, maintains an extensive database of lost and stolen passports. The use of the stolen passports by passengers on the Malaysia Airlines flight should have been checked against that database by airline officials, he said.An EU counterterrorism official who talked to the NYT came to the same conclusion. He was surprised that it was possible to check in with stolen passports. As if that wasn't enough stew in the pot, security experts tell NBC News that it's extremely rare for two people to board the same flight with stolen passports.
"Now the question here becomes, did the authorities in Malaysia, the airport in Kuala Lumpur, did they make inquiry of that database," Fuentes said. "Is that system set up to make an automatic inquiry if someone is using a previously reported stolen document? That should come up right away if they check that database. Not every country that belongs to Interpol automatically does that."
Malaysian officials are still considering all possibilities. However, this development is unsettling, to say the least.
4:23 PM PT: PaloAltoPixie mentions something that was revealed in an NYT update--the passport thieves bought their tickets through China Southern, not Malaysia Airlines. So China Southern has some explaining to do as well.
6:19 PM PT: ABC News reports that officials are hoping Kuala Lumpur's airport has cameras that recorded passengers headed for the plane. If they can get Malaysian authorities to share the images, they plan to compare them to various databases.
8:21 PM PT: Malaysian Insider reports that the identities of two other Europeans who have yet to be confirmed. Normally that wouldn't raise a red flag--except those two tickets were also bought through China Southern. (h/t to rovertheoctopus)
Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 6:09 AM PT: The BBC reports that only two names are now suspect--those who traveled under the stolen Italian and Austrian passports. But in a further unsettling development, both of those tickets were bought together. CNN confirms that the ticket numbers were contiguous. Even if there turns out to be no foul play involved, China Southern and Malaysia Airlines have some serious explaining to do.