KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Checks into the background of the Chinese citizens on board the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner have uncovered no links to terrorism, the Chinese ambassador in Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday.
The remarks will dampen speculation that Uighur Muslim separatists in far-western Xinjiang province might have been involved with the disappearance of the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew early on March 8.
The plane was carrying 154 Chinese passengers when Malaysian officials say someone on board deliberately diverted it from its route to Beijing less than an hour into the flight. A massive search operation in the Indian Ocean and beyond has yet to find any trace of the plane.
Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang said background checks on Chinese nationals didn't uncover any evidence suggesting they were involved in hijacking or an act of terrorism against the plane, according to the state Xinhua News Agency.
Uighur groups have been involved in attacks inside China, and some have a presence in the Afghan-Pakistan border area, where al-Qaida and other transnational jihadi groups are based.
Malaysian police are investigating the pilots and ground engineers of the plane, and have asked intelligence agencies from countries with passengers on board to carry out background checks on those people.
Malaysian authorities say that someone on board the flight switched off two vital pieces of communication equipment, allowing the plane to fly almost undetected. Satellite data show it might have ended up somewhere in a giant arc stretching from Central Asia to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.
Huang said China had begun searching for the plane on its territory, but gave no details. When asked at a Foreign Ministry briefing Tuesday in Beijing what this search involved, ministry spokesman Hong Lei said only that satellites and radar were being used.
A Chinese civilian aviation official previously said there was no sign of the plane entering the country's airspace on commercial radar. The government has not said whether this has been confirmed by military radar data.
Malaysian police say they are investigating the possibility of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board, but have yet to give any update on what they have uncovered.
Malaysian military radar spotted the plane in the northern reaches of the Strait of Malacca at 2:14 a.m. on March 8, just over 1½ hours after it took off from Kuala Lumpur. That is the plane's last confirmed position. A signal to a satellite from the plane at 8:11 a.m. suggests that, by then, it was somewhere in a broad arc spanning from Kazakhstan to the Indian Ocean west of Australia.
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