The eleven suspects arrested and questioned over a potential al Qaeda link to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are alleged to be part of a new terror ring in Malaysia and have denied any involvement in the mystery surrounding the missing jet.
The Independent reports that the suspects, which are alleged to be of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, are considered by investigators to be “members of a new terror group,” and that one Malaysian official told the newspaper that their arrests “had heightened suspicion that the flight’s disappearance may have been an act of terrorism.”
The original report of the arrests surfaced on the Daily Mail on Saturday night. Since then, others in the Malaysian government have denied that the arrest has anything to do with the missing jet. Malaysian Inspector General of Police Khalid Bakar told NBC news that there is “absolutely no connection between the arrests and the MH370.” Malaysia’s Star additionally reports that Bakar described the report as “rubbish” and that the investigation focused on whether those arrested were using social media to create a larger terror cell.
This latest development raises questions into whether the Malaysian government has sufficiently investigated the plane’s disappearance and potential suspects, rather than merely setting a search area and hoping to find wreckage. A preliminary report on the incident released by the Malaysian government last week reveals that Malaysia Airlines waited four hours after the plane disappeared from radar before calling for a search operation and indicated falsely to Vietnamese air traffic control that the plane was flying in Cambodian airspace.
The arrests also raise questions pertaining to early leads in the search. In mid-March, reports surfaced that an al Qaeda affiliate testifying at the trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law in the UK had stated in court that he had helped teach Malaysian Islamist militants how to make shoe bombs to break into a plane cockpit, part of a potential “9/11-style attack.” Another early lead, confirmed by the preliminary report, was that MH370 was carrying highly flammable lithium-ion batteries, items restricted onboard aircraft.
The international search coalition has announced that it will begin a new phase in the search for the missing plane. Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang said that they expect the new search to be “even broader, with more difficulties and tougher tasks.” Relatives of those onboard the aircraft, most Chinese citizens, have been told to return to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur and wait for updates, as the search may take months, if not years. Reports indicated the family of those onboard were infuriated by the call to return home, as this also came with a suspension of permissions to stay at government-subsidized hotel rooms in the Malaysian capital, raising the claim that the Malaysian government essentially threw them out of the country.