KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Checks into the background of all the Chinese nationals on board the missing Malaysian jetliner have uncovered no links to terrorism, the Chinese ambassador in Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday.
The remarks will dampen speculation that Uighur 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 one hour into the flight. A massive search operation 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 state news agency Xinhua.
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 passengers.
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 shows it might have ended up somewhere in a giant arc stretching from Central Asia to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.
Huikang also said that Chinese authorities had begun searching for the plane on its territory.
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 1 ½ hours after it took off from Kuala Lumpur. That is the plane's last known confirmed position.