U.S. officials are reviewing possible terror links in connection with a missing Malaysian airliner, a federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY on Saturday.
Malaysia on Sunday launched a terror probe into the disappearance of a passenger jet carrying 239 people, with authorities looking into the possibility that the plane attempted to turn back.
Authorities have been reviewing the passenger manifest list and cross-checking the names with their international colleagues after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared with 239 on board while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early Saturday local time.
The official — who is not authorized to comment publicly — said there has been no immediate determination of what caused the plane to lose contact, adding it would likely take some time to reach any conclusions because of the lack of evidence.
Speculation of a terror connection is also brewing in China, according to reports from local media.
The news comes as Italian and Austrian officials said two people listed as passengers on the flight turned out not to be on the plane, and had reported their passports stolen in Thailand.
U.S. authorities are aware of reports that two passengers may have boarded with stolen passports, but the official said that passport theft is a common problem in that part of the world.
Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities are looking at four possible cases of suspect identities and had contacted the FBI and other intelligence agencies. "We do not want to target only the four; we are investigating the whole passenger manifest. We are looking at all possibilities."
Italian news agency ANSA reported the Italian citizen whose name is on the passenger manifest, Louis Maraldi, 37, from Cesena, was not aboard the plane and had phoned his parents to say that he is well.
He had reported his passport stolen Aug. 1. The Italian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the Italian was not on board the aircraft.
At the same time, Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss told the AP that a name listed on the manifest matches an Austrian passport reported stolen two years ago. Weiss would not confirm the identity.
When asked earlier whether terrorism was suspected, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said authorities were "looking at all possibilities," the AP reported.
Friends and relatives of passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines plane gather in Beijing to wait for news. Paul Chapman reports.
Search underway as contact is lost with Malaysian Airlines passenger plane bound for Beijing. Rough cut - no reporter narration.
As the search continues for missing Malaysian Airlines plane tensions rise for families and friends of those on board waiting for news. Paul Chapman reports