Two Passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight Used Stolen Passports

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 8 2014 1:48 PM

A Sign of Foul Play? Two Passengers Used Stolen Passports

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A man stands beside the arrival board showing the flight MH370 at the Beijing Airport

Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

The investigation into the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane that took off from Kuala Lampur and vanished with 239 people on board less than an hour later took a sinister turn Saturday amid confirmation that two people on the passenger manifest were not on the plane. Two passengers used stolen Austrian and Italian passports to board the plane, the foreign ministries of both countries confirmed on Saturday, reports Bloomberg. Now U.S. officials are investigating whether there could be a link to terrorism, sources tell NBC News. Investigators in Malaysia are also apparently not discarding a possible link to terrorism.

Officials tell NBC News there are plenty of other reasons besides terrorism why a passenger might use a stolen passport—drug smuggling, for example—but the revelation “significantly changed how U.S. officials looked at the disaster.” It certainly sounds sinister but it could be much ado about nothing. A European security official tells the Wall Street Journal that it isn’t all that uncommon for passengers to board flights using stolen passports. Still, NBC highlights that having two people on one flight with stolen passports is “very rare.”

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Christian Kozel, the 30-year-old Austrian whose name was on the manifest had reported his passport stolen in Thailand in 2012. The 37-year-old Italian on the list—Luigi Maraldi—also reported his passport had been stolen in Thailand and was recently given a new passport, according to the Italian embassy in Bangkok, reports the Guardian.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.