WASHINGTON — The
He said that a fourth passenger, whom he described as an infant flying with the three Americans, also may be a U.S citizen.
"This gives us entree" to the case, the official said, speaking confidentially because the FBI investigation is just beginning. "But so far what happened is a mystery."
U.S. officials said they are looking at whether this could be terrorism, as they would with any plane crash until proved otherwise. Though two passengers apparently used stolen passports, "there is no indication this is a terrorist attack; stolen passports are certainly not indicative of a terrorist attack," a senior counter terrorism official said.
The official said there was "no evidence" of terrorism thus far. Law enforcement officials were not authorized to speak publicly.
But he emphsized that no known terrorist link has surfaced, and no organization has claimed responsibility for downing the plane, which was en route to Beijing with 239 people aboard when it disappeared from air traffic control monitoring.
The U.S. law enforcement official said that the federal
An official at the
He noted that in the United States, passports and other travel documents are immediately run through a computer database that would have detected whether they had been stolen or lost. In Malaysia, however, the security arrangement is not as tight, he said, and purloined travel documents could have gotten two of the passengers through the security checkpoints.
He cautioned that at this early stage, "we can't say what it means yet." But he said that the two stolen passports have given investigators an open door to look for security breaches.
The Homeland Security source said that the passport stolen from an Italian was taken from his rental car when he returned the vehicle in August in Malaysia. The second passport was stolen from an Austrian man two years ago, he said.
"Just because they were stolen doesn't mean the travelers were terrorists," the Homeland Security source cautioned. "They could have been nothing more than thieves. Or they could have simply bought the passports on the black market."
Another U.S. law enforcement official said