New information on two passengers from Malaysia Air Flight MH370 — which disappeared without a trace off the coast of Vietnam on Friday — raises the possibility the plane was bombed as part of a terrorist test run. If confirmed, the guilty organization’s silence means more attacks may be forthcoming.
While reports remain unsettled, most agree that two unknown individuals purchased tickets for the flight stolen fake Italian and Austrian passports. More ominously, the tickets were purchased together through an Iranian middleman, known to a travel agent only as “Mr. Ali.”
Terrorist organizations usually claim responsibility for their attacks, especially successful ones. But it wouldn’t be the first time an airliner was bombed without a confession, some experts can’t help but compare this mystery to an earlier bombing plot.
On December 11, 1994, Philippine Airlines Flight 434 was bombed en route to Japan, killing one passenger and narrowly missing the aircraft’s fuel tanks. Although the plane landed safely, no one stepped forward to take responsibility for the attack.
A few weeks later, an apartment fire in The Philippines led police to the apartment of Ramzi Yousef, an al-Qaida terrorist later convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. There, they found a laptop tying Yousef to the bombing — in fact, the terrorist had himself placed the bomb under his seat during the first leg of the flight.
But more disturbing were the plans they found for a catastrophic attack on planes flying to the United States. Dubbed “Operation Bojinka,” it called for the simultaneous bombing of 11 airliners en route from Asia to the United States. The flight bombed by Yousef had been a test run, and the terrorists avoided taking responsibility in order to keep their broader plan a secret.
The al-Qaida plot relied upon fake or stolen passports, 12 of which were discovered in the apartment. And it was later learned that Yousef himself used a fake Italian passport — like the one reportedly carried by one Malaysian Airlines passengers — to board the bombed Philippine Airlines flight.
Thankfully, “Operation Bojinka” was never carried out, with most of the terrorists involved being captured soon after their plan was revealed. But Yousef’s dry run on the Philippine Airlines flight was meant to have destroyed the aircraft, likely instantaneously. And the difficulty of finding wreckage in the ocean means it may have taken days or weeks for authorities to determine the plane had been brought down through an act of terrorism.
Mary Schiavo, a former investigator at the Department of Transportation, warned Monday on CNN that the similarities between “Operation Bojinka” and the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 are ominous.
Schiavo explained that authorities will have a much better idea about terrorist involvement once debris from the flight is retrieved. “The instant they can get the wreckage they will have really important clues,” she noted, “because if it’s an explosive there will be pitting patterns on the wreckage and they’ll be able to tell it’s an explosion.”
Other analysts are unconcerned by the presence of stolen passports on the flight, claiming forged identification is quite common the region. One security expert interviewed by The Globe and Mail suspected the passports may have been part of a refugee scam, with the two individuals seeking asylum in Europe.
On Monday U.S. investigators requested the fingerprints and pictures of the two men, seeking to compare that information to their database of known terrorists.
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