Two days after the strange disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, a Clarion Project analysis concluded that it was most likely an act of terrorism at the hands of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and/or Jemaah Islamiya. As time goes on, it has indeed become extremely likely that the disappearance was the handiwork of one or both of these groups.
Shortly after our analysis was published, Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble said, “The more information we get, the more we’re inclined to conclude that it was not a terrorist incident.” However, this statement was based on the conclusion that two Iranians who boarded the flight with stolen passports were not likely suspects of terrorism.
On the contrary, our analysis did not rest upon the Iranians’ involvement. In fact, we did not even list Iran as a suspect because it was impossible to explain why the Iranian regime would target its Chinese friends and jeopardize its campaign to have sanctions lifted.
The gaping holes in the theory that Flight 370 crashed because of an accident remained and became wider.
Malaysia Airlines has a great reputation for safety. There was no evidence of problematic weather in the area. No distress signal was made, as any pilot would do at the first indication of mechanical problems.
Now, the media has learned that the aircraft’s data reporting system was shut down at 1:07AM. The transponder was then turned off at 1:21AM. U.S. officials can only see "manual intervention" as the cause. It then flew four or five more hours. The only plausible explanation is that whoever controlled the cockpit did not want the flight to be monitored. A senior U.S. official says there is a “significant likelihood” it then crashed in the Indian Ocean, an area that was outside of the search zone until now.
If a mechanical failure is responsible, it will have to be one that no credible expert has theorized. The circumstances point very strongly in the direction of terrorism and more information is pointing in the direction of the groups we pinpointed earlier.
We now know from the court testimony of an Al-Qaeda terrorist named Sajjid Badat that Al-Qaeda previously planned to use a cell in Malaysia that included a pilot to hijack an airliner in December 2001. Badat even provided the shoe-bomb that would blast open the cockpit door. It is also known that Al-Qaeda held high-level meetings to plan the 9/11 attacks in Kuala Lumpur, where Flight 370 departed.
On February 19, the Department of Homeland Security told the aviation industry that it has credible but non-specific information about a shoe-bomb plot against an airliner. Anonymous officials say it was prompted by “very recent intelligence.”
On February 24, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIP), also known as the Turkestan Islamic Party, released a video of one of its clerics threatening attacks on Chinese Buddhists. The group is linked to Al-Qaeda and wants China’s largely-Muslim Xinjiang Province to gain independence. The Turkic population there is called Uighurs.
On March 1, seven days before the Flight 370 disappearance, a vicious knife attack took place that killed 29 Chinese civilians. ETIP is almost certainly the culprit.
On March 3, China Airlines issued an alert about a “significant risk of terrorist attacks and military actions against aviation.”
On March 4, the China Airlines branch in Taiwan receives an anonymous phone call in French. He says he tried to call the Beijing airport but did not get through. The caller claims to be part of a counter-terrorism group but speaks in his native Chinese when he isn’t understood. He says that Beijing’s airport and subway system will soon come under attack.
On March 8, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappears. The majority of the passengers are Chinese.
On March 9, a previously-unknown group called the Chinese Martyrs’ Brigade claims credit. Although Islamist terrorist groups sometimes use different names, the statement includes no supporting details to lend it credibility. The separatists also do not usually refer to themselves as being Chinese.
On March 13, it was reported that a 35-year old Chinese Uighur passenger with flight simulation training is being looked into as a possible suspect.
It was also reported that several homes belonging to flight crew members were being searched, though one Malaysian official denies it. The family of the chief pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was reportedly interviewed. No public evidence points to Shah being an extremist at this stage.
The reported name of the Uighur is Maimaitijiang Abula. He is from Kashgar in Xinjiang Province, a town near the borders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. An online resume states he was an assistant professor at a university in Turkey. From 2004-2005, he was a researcher for a training and simulation center in Sweden. One report says he received flight simulation training there.
However, the New York Times previously reported that he studied at the Chinese Academy of Oil Painting for the past two years and is a member of the Chinese Community Party. His friends and family members say he traveled to Malaysia for an art exhibition. A photo appears online of him receiving an award during his visit. The Times says he was part of a group of approximately 20 calligraphers and artists being honored.
It is possible that there was one more than one Uighur passenger onboard and their biographies are being mixed up.
The Malaysian authorities neither confirm nor deny that a Uighur passenger is being looked into as a suspect.
Based on the evidence, five theories have developed as to why Flight 370 has gone missing. Here they are in ascending order of likelihood:
5. A freak accident: As stated before, this theory has the most holes in it. There is no evidence of a malfunction or threatening weather. A distress call was not issued as would be expected. It does not account for the apparently deliberate shutting down of the data reporting system and transponder, followed by hours of unmonitored flight.
4. A bombing without control of the cockpit: This would explain why there was no distress call, but it does not account for the shutting down of the data reporting system, transponder and four hours of subsequent flight.
3. Control of the cockpit plus bomb detonation: In this scenario, the cockpit is controlled either through a hijacking or the complicity of a pilot. A bomb is used to destroy the aircraft after it is taken over.
The only way this accounts for the four hours of flight is if the perpetrators decided to abandon their travel to a destination. However, why wouldn’t they just crash the plane if they had to abort mission?
2. Control of the cockpit plus suicide dive: The cockpit is controlled by the perpetrators who then crash it into the ocean.
This scenario does not account for the shutting down of the systems and hours of subsequent flight.
1. Control of the cockpit plus suicide dive to abort the mission: This is the only scenario that accounts for all the factors until new details are known or corrections to the story are made.
In this scenario, the cockpit is controlled by the perpetrators who then divert the flight to reach a predetermined destination. The most likely objective is a 9/11-style suicide mission. For some reason, the mission is aborted and the perpetrators crash the plane into the ocean.
This is a comprehensive assessment based on the information currently available. That information is subject to change, but it is difficult to envision how the disappearance of Flight 370 can be attributable to a mechanical failure.
If indeed its demise is an act of terrorism, the authorities should immediately suspect the two Islamist groups we previously pointed at: The East Turkestan Islamic Movement, based in China and Pakistan, and Jemaah Islamiya, based in southeast Asia including Malaysia.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.