Hours before taking control of flight MH370, pilot Zaharu Ahmad Shah attended trial of jailed opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, as FBI reveals that passengers could be at a secret location.
UK Daily Mail (h/t James C) Police are investigating the possibility that the pilot of missing Flight MH370 hijacked his own aircraft in a bizarre political protest. The Mail on Sunday has learned that Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was an ‘obsessive’ supporter of Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. And hours before the doomed flight left Kuala Lumpur it is understood 53-year-old Shah attended a controversial trial in which Ibrahim was jailed for five years.
Campaigners say the politician, the key challenger to Malaysia’s ruling party, was the victim of a long-running smear campaign and had faced trumped-up charges.
Police sources have confirmed that Shah was a vocal political activist – and fear that the court decision left him profoundly upset. It was against this background that, seven hours later, he took control of a Boeing 777-200 bound for Beijing and carrying 238 passengers and crew.
Yesterday, Malaysian police searched his house in the upmarket Kuala Lumpur suburb of Shah Alam, where he had installed a home-made flight simulator. But this newspaper can reveal that investigators had already spent much of last week examining two laptops removed from Shah’s home. One is believed to contain data from the simulator.
Confirming rising fears, Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak announced yesterday that MH370 was deliberately steered off course after its communication system was switched off. He said it headed west over the Malaysian seaboard and could have flown for another seven hours on its fuel reserves.
It is not yet clear where the plane was taken, however Mr Razak said the most recent satellite data suggests the plane could have been making for one of two possible flight corridors. The search, involving 43 ships and 58 aircraft from 15 countries, switched from the South China Sea to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.
US investigators say faint ‘pings’ were being transmitted for several hours after the flight lost contact with the ground. Meanwhile, military radar showed the jet climbed to 45,000ft – above its service limit – which could have been a deliberate attempt to knock out the passengers and crew.
Anwar Ibrahim is a broadly popular icon and former deputy prime minister whose prosecution on a charge of sodomy is seen by many Malaysians as political persecution.
The raids on Captain Shah’s home appeared stage-managed as a display of intent after the Prime Minister said the focus of the investigation was now on ‘crew and passengers’ as a result of the latest leads. But investigators have told the Mail on Sunday inquiries into the background of the pilot actually began days earlier.
Malaysian police, helped by FBI agents from the US, are looking into the political and religious backgrounds of both Zaharie and his co-pilot. Zaharie’s home was sealed off yesterday as police spent an hour inside.
However, a senior investigation source said two laptops were taken from the property in low-key visits by police early last week despite a series of denials by officials that his home had been searched or raided. One laptop taken away is thought to contain data from the flight simulator while a second contained little information. Zaharie’s personal laptop was not found, and is thought to have been with him in the cockpit of the plane, the source said.
Zaharie’s co-workers have told investigators the veteran pilot was a social activist who was vocal and fervent in his support of Ibrahim. ‘Colleagues made it clear to us that he was someone who held strong political beliefs and was strident in his support for Anwar Ibrahim,’ another investigation source said. ‘We were told by one colleague he was obsessed with politics.’
At yesterday’s press conference, the suspicion over the pilot’s involvement mounted as prime minister Najib Razak said that investigators had found ‘deliberate action’ on board the plane resulted in it changing course and losing contact with ground crews.