Australian and Malaysian officials examine aircraft debris at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau headquarters in Canberra, Australia, July 20, 2016 after it was found on Pemba Island, located near Tanzania, in late June and was transported to Australia for examination. (Australian Transport Safety Bureau/Handout via REUTERS)
Two passengers who boarded MH370 with stolen passports are believed to be from the Middle East after a Financial Times report revealed that the tickets were bought by an Iranian in the Thai resort town of Pattaya.
The Financial Times exclusively reported that a Thai travel agent who booked the tickets for the men said she had been asked to make the travel arrangements by an Iranian contact.
Travel agent Benjaporn Krutnait, booked the tickets through a business contact whom she only knew as "Mr Ali". She said that his first request to book cheap tickets to Europe for the two men was made on March 1.
She told The Financial Times that it was quite common for people to book tickets through middlemen who then retake a commission.
Ali had asked for the cheapest route to Europe for his clients and did not mention the specific booking Kuala Lumpur-Beijing - unlikely behaviour by would-be terrorists.
Benjaporn initially reserved one of the men on a Qatar Airways flight and the other on Etihad. But the tickets expired when Benjaporn did not hear back from Ali.
The Financial Times said when Ali contacted her again on Thursday, she rebooked the men on the Malaysia Airlines flight through Beijing because it was the cheapest available.
A friend of Ali paid Benjaporn cash for the tickets, the paper reported, adding that there is no evidence that Ali knew the two men were travelling on stolen passports.
Benjaporn made the bookings through a China Southern Airlines office in Bangkok.
The two passengers were supposed to fly from Beijing to Amsterdam on Saturday. The passenger travelling as "Luigi Maraldi" was to fly on to Copenhagen and "Christian Kozel" to Frankfurt.
Interpol said it was investigating the passport holders and examining airport footage of the two men.
It is fairly common for fraudulent documents to be used on regional flights for illegal immigration or drug smuggling but the fact that the aircraft has disappeared has triggered speculation of a terrorist attack.
The two, who were of "non-Asian appearance", despite earlier reports, were travelling from Kuala Lumpur, one on an Italian passport and one on an Austrian passport. The passports were reported missing a year ago by the real Maraldi and Kozel, respectively.
The one-way tickets under those names were issued by a travel agency in Pattaya, eastern Thailand. – March 10, 2014.