TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Arab League Joins Abbas In Rejecting Israel As Jewish State

Mahmoud Abbas - Francois Hollande
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on February 21, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Israel says its recognition as a Jewish state is a prerequisite for peace with Palestinians

The Arab League has backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, as U.S.-backed peace talks near a deadline next month.

Arab foreign ministers said in a statement from Cairo that the League continues to support efforts to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and rejects the notion of a “Jewish state,” affirming Palestinian beliefs that the label would lead to discrimination against Israel’s large Arab minority, Reuters reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has taken a hard line in dealing with Palestinians, has made Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a prerequisite for peace. “In recognizing the Jewish state you (Palestinians) would finally make clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

Abbas objected that the Arab states have already conceded to recognize Israel as a state. “We recognized Israel in mutual recognition in the (1993) Oslo agreement – why do they now ask us to recognize the Jewishness of the state?” Abbas said.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing hard to broker a major peace deal, but thorny questions like the status of Israel, as well as its half million settlers in the West Bank and occupation of East Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 war remain sticking points in negotiations.

[Reuters]

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Troops in Crimea Face Dilemma: To Defect, Flee or Fight

Ukrainian soldiers at the Belbek air force base in Crimea, March 4, 2014.
Ukrainian soldiers at the Belbek air force base in Crimea, March 4, 2014. Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME

Ukrainian soldiers guarding the country's air defense bases in the Crimea region aren't allowed to use their weapons despite provocations from Russian troops, creating tense standoffs where any wrong move could spark an armed conflict

On Friday night, when Russian troops began storming the command center of Ukraine’s air defenses in the region of Crimea, the hundred or so soldiers barricaded inside had orders not to open fire. Half of them locked themselves inside a bunker at the far end of the base, which stretches about 2 km along the Black Sea coast. The other half stood and watched as about two dozen Russian commandos forced their way inside. Their only means of self-defense was to form a human chain behind the main gate, hoping the Russian truck would not drive over them as it rammed its way through the iron bars. “We are not allowed to use our weapons,” says Major Vladimir Yaremchuk, who was at the base that night. “But those guys came here armed to the teeth.”

Standing beside the mangled gate the following day, Yaremchuk told TIME that the Russians were apparently trying to goad them into firing the first shot. “It was a provocation,” he said. “Everyone knows that at first blood, their hands will be untied and that will be the end of it.”

For the Ukrainian troops based in Crimea, that provocation was just the latest in a string of humiliations. They had already been barricaded inside their bases for a week by Russian troops. Many of them had been forced to give up their weapons and had seen the chief of Ukraine’s navy defect to the Russian side. But all these blows to their morale seemed bearable compared with what will happen a week from Sunday, when Crimea holds a referendum on its secession from Ukraine. After that, the region’s several thousand Ukrainian servicemen will find themselves marooned outside their country’s borders. The new government of Crimea will then set out to evict them.

“We want only one thing,” said Sergei Aksyonov, the new pro-Russian leader of Crimea, who was installed after an armed takeover of the regional parliament on Feb. 27. “We want to have no armed men staying here with their guns poking into our sides, because those weapons could, either by accident or through a surge of emotion, start going off. That’s what we do not want,” he told TIME on Sunday. So after the referendum, the Ukrainian soldiers will either have to sign an oath of allegiance to Aksyonov’s government or resign from the Ukrainian military and become civilians. “Those who came here from other regions of Ukraine will be allowed a corridor to leave in peace back to their homes,” Aksyonov said.

But what about the Ukrainian soldiers who were born and raised in Crimea? Hundreds of them face the prospect of either fleeing their home region or going back to their Crimean towns and cities, where the new leadership considers them an occupying force. One of them, a lieutenant colonel of the Ukrainian air force, told TIME last week that he will not take either option. “If they start the siege, we will shoot to kill,” said the 40-year-old officer, who only gave his first name, Andrei, because he fears for the safety of his family in the Crimean city of Yevpatoria, his hometown. “These are not blanks. These are real bullets, and we will use them as our orders prescribe,” he said inside the Belbek air-force base, patting the barrel of his Kalashnikov.

But not all of his fellow officers have the luxury of using one of those. In the nearby command center of Ukraine’s air defenses, a base called A-2355, the soldiers have orders not to fire their weapons. That restriction has given the Russian siege of the base a bizarre dynamic over the past week. It has forced the men of A-2355 to resort to various means of nonviolent resistance, deceptions and stalling tactics, turning their standoff into a battle of nerves.

That battle began peaceably enough last Saturday, March 1, with offers of money in exchange for surrender. At A-2355, which lies on the outskirts of Sevastopol, a group of uniformed officers from the Russian Black Sea fleet arrived to discuss the terms with the base commanders. They didn’t have to travel far. The home of the Black Sea fleet is in Sevastopol, on the southwestern tip of the Crimean Peninsula, and houses at least 13,000 Russian troops and dozens of warships. “At first they came with their chevrons on, all their Russian insignia, and identified themselves as officers of the Black Sea fleet,” says Yaremchuk, who witnessed their arrival. “There were a few of them, all ranked naval captain or higher.” (In the Russian navy, that would mean they were commanders of at least one warship.)

According to four Ukrainian officers interviewed by TIME, the Russians offered unspecified amounts of money if they agreed to defect. At some bases, including A-2355, they also promised defecting officers an equal position in the armed forces of a future Crimean state, which they said would soon split off from Ukraine and become independent. That would suggest they had foreknowledge of the referendum, which was only announced on March 6, at least a week in advance. On March 16, that vote will offer the residents of Crimea two possible futures: either split off from Ukraine and become an independent state, or ask Russia to annex Crimea. Remaining a part of Ukraine is not an option on the ballot.

Some of the Russian negotiators seemed to assume that the annexation of Crimea is inevitable. At Ukraine’s Belbek air-force base, one officer of the Russian Black Sea fleet asked the Ukrainian officers to defect directly to the Russian armed forces. “I guess they skipped a step,” says Viktor Kukharchenko, a colonel stationed at Belbek. “They were operating on the assumption that Crimea was already a part of Russia.”

The first and so far only major defection among the officer corps was announced the following day, March 2. Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, who had been appointed as head of Ukraine’s entire navy only two days earlier, told reporters he was renouncing his loyalty to Ukraine and pledging an oath “to the people of Crimea.” His subordinates, however, did not follow his lead, so the Russians were forced to ramp up the pressure.

Across Crimea, thousands of troops began surrounding all the Ukrainian bases and blocking the troops inside. The invaders were dressed like Russian special forces who had taken the insignia off their uniforms. They drove vehicles with Russian license plates and had standard-issue Russian hardware, including Ural trucks, Tigr all-terrain vehicles, Dragunov sniper rifles and Kalashnikov machine guns.

But their lack of insignia allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to deny his troops were occupying Crimea. His Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, has said he has no idea where they got all that Russian hardware. Aksyonov, the new Crimean Prime Minister, tells TIME that local “self-defense forces” seized it all from Ukrainian bases, then attached Russian military license plates that they somehow purchased. Because of the matching green uniforms and mysterious origins of the invaders, the Ukrainian troops have begun calling them “little green men.”

At air base A-2355, the occupying force demanded that Ukrainians hand over their weapons and surrender, as they did at all the military installations in Crimea. Different officers reacted differently, depending on their orders from Kiev. Those who had enough manpower and equipment to stand a chance were ordered to defend the base by force if necessary. But A-2355 is little more than a radar station, equipped to monitor the air space over Crimea and relay data to antiaircraft batteries. “We’d be fighting against Russian special forces,” says Yaremchuk. “It would be like a heavyweight boxer against a teenager. Sure, we would die with honor. But we would all die.”

So instead of resisting, they hid their cache of weapons in a storage room and invited the Russians inside to inspect the empty armory. Apparently satisfied, the Russian troops left the base alone for nearly a week, returning only on Friday, March 7. “Word somehow reached them that we still had a cache of assault rifles hidden away,” says Yaremchuk. That morning, two Ural trucks full of heavily armed men — about 30 in all — arrived at the base and demanded the surrender of its weapons. The commanding officers obliged, even handing over the two training pistols from the base’s shooting range.

But by evening, the little green men came back, pressed the bumper of their truck against the gate and began ramming through it. It was the first time the Russians had attempted to force their way into a Ukrainian base, and with no means of self-defense, the troops barricaded inside formed a line in front of the gate and stood there as the truck pushed toward them. “They stopped when they saw us standing there,” says Yaremchuk. Instead of plowing right through the gate, the Russians simply climbed over the wall of the base and fanned out across it. The base commanders had meanwhile locked themselves in a bunker and began sending distress signals to their ranking officers. Negotiations began, and by midnight, the Russian forces received orders to withdraw, leaving the Ukrainians as they had found them.

But the end is approaching anyway, as annexation looms. After the referendum, Yaremchuk says he will likely have no choice but to return to his hometown in the region of Zhytomyr, in western Ukraine, where his friends will greet him as a hero for holding out as long as he could. “People there already despise Putin,” he says. “So for me it won’t be so bad.” What worries him is the fate of the officers whose families and homes are in Crimea. “They will be uprooted,” he says. Or forced to live in a hostile land.

TIME Environment

Study: New Man-Made Gases Eating Into Ozone Layer

Ozone
Getty Images

Scientists say gasses from insecticides and solvents for cleaning electronic components are harming the atmosphere more than two decades after governments around the world resolved to pass legislation phasing out ozone-depleting gasses

A new study suggests man-made gases in the atmosphere are affecting the ozone layer, more than two decades after governments resolved to phase out ozone-destroying gases.

Three of the types of gases discovered are chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), the compound found in aerosol sprays and refrigerator coolants that created holes in the ozone layer nearly 30 years ago, the Financial Times reports. The gases may be emitted from chemicals used to make insecticides and solvents for cleaning electronic components, said the study by Dr Johannes Laube of the University of East Anglia, but their source is unclear.

A hydrochlorofluorocarbon, or HCFC, a less harmful replacement of CFCs, is another gas affecting the atmosphere.

The ozone layer in the earth’s stratosphere filters ultraviolet solar rays that are harmful to human health. In 1989 governments agreed to phase out CFCs, leading to a long-term recovery of the ozone layer. Scientists point to the ozone layer’s recovery as evidence that changes in human behavior can improve the environment.

But the recent discovery suggests the ozone layer is still being impacted. Emissions at the current levels have not been seen since controls were introduced, though the recent levels are still much lower than the extraordinarily high CFC output of the 1980s.

“The concentrations found in this study are tiny. Nevertheless, this paper reminds us we need to be vigilant and continually monitor the atmosphere for even small amounts of these gases creeping up, either through accidental or unplanned emissions,” said Professor Piers Forster of the University of Leeds.

[FT]

TIME

Canadian Freelance Photographer Killed in Syria

Ali Mustafa
Ali Mustafa, far right, stands for a portrait in Cairo in November 2011 as TIME photographed protesters, who it named Person of the Year Peter Hapak for TIME

Ali Mustafa, a Toronto-based freelance photographer and activist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The Times and Radio Free Europe, was killed in Aleppo on Sunday while covering the civil war in Syria

A Canadian freelance photographer was killed in Aleppo on Sunday while covering the civil war in Syria, activists and a family member said, after a government attack on the northern city.

Ali Mustafa and seven others were killed after regime aircraft dropped barrel bombs on the opposition-held Hadariyeh area of Aleppo, reports AP. A military helicopter dropped one crude bomb, an activist said, then another after bystanders and journalists had gathered to survey the scene. The activist said Mustafa was mortally wounded by the second bomb.

Mustafa’s family reportedly learned of his death through social media after his Facebook page lit up with remembrances. In a public conversation on the page, his sister Justina Rosa Botelho asked for a picture of his body to confirm the news and provided her email. “Please show me,” she wrote. “So that I may call my mom.” A picture of a bloodied man who resembled Mustafa was later posted on the same page.

Less than two weeks ago, Mustafa had filed photographs of the aftermath of a barrel bomb attack in Aleppo to the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA). One picture, from Feb. 26, shows civilians looking for survivors at a destroyed building in the neighborhood of Kalase.

Mustafa’s photographs from Syria were frequently published online, recently by the Guardian, The Times and Radio Free Europe. In a lengthy interview last year, Toronto-based Mustafa explained why he was drawn to documenting the war in Syria after covering unrest around the Middle East. “I could not ignore this ongoing human tragedy any longer,” he said. “The only way I could truly get a sense of the reality on the ground was to go there to figure it out for myself.”

Patrick Witty, until recently TIME’s International Picture Editor, recalled meeting Mustafa in November 2011, when he and photographer Peter Hapak were in Cairo to make portraits of protesters, whom TIME named Person of the Year. “These kids were streaming into our makeshift studio, set up in a photographer friend’s apartment near Tahrir Square,” Witty said. “Some of their eyes were smudged with Maalox to counter the burning affect of tear gas.”

Ali Mustafa was photographed in Cairo in November 2011 as TIME made portraits of protesters, who it named Person of the Year. Peter Hapak for TIME

“After Peter made the portrait of Ali, he told me he was a photographer and offered to show me pictures he made of the protests. He pulled out his camera and started flipping through photos on the tiny screen on the back of the camera. We all gathered close around his camera and were in awe. His pictures were raw, filled with energy, very intense. I told him to keep in touch with me and he did. Occasionally, he’d send me protest photos from Cairo via email, along with a sweet note, and each time they were stronger and stronger,” Witty adds. “I didn’t know he was in Syria until today, when I found out he was killed. It’s so tragic. He had such a bright future ahead of him. My heart goes out to his family and friends.”

For two years in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists has grimly labeled Syria the world’s most deadly country for journalists, with 29 killed last year alone. There are also more journalists missing there—61 known abductions of locals and foreigners—than anywhere else in the world.

TIME Fine Art

Italy Furious At Gun-Toting ‘David’ Statue In U.S. Rifle Ad

Armalite
@ArmaLiteInc

An advertisement from Illinois-based weapons manufacturer ArmaLite depicting Michelangelo's sculpture David carrying a AR-50A1 rifle causes outrage in Italy, as the minister of culture threatens legal action

A U.S. gun ad featuring Michelangelo’s David wielding a rifle has stirred up rage in Italy, where the Renaissance-era sculpture is considered virtually sacrosanct.

The advertisement, made by Illinois-based ArmaLite, depicts David holding an AR-50A1 rifle, a large sniper rifle that fires .50 caliber bullets and costs $ 3,300, reports Il Post. The advertisement carries the line “AR-50A1: A work of art.”

Italy’s culture minister Dario Franceschini said the image was offensive and violated the law, and an official at the Department of Culture in Florence said it has warned the arms producer not to use the image.

Anyone who wants to use the statue of David for “promotional purposes,” said the official, “has to respect the cultural dignity (of the work of art).” But the director of the museum that houses the statue warned legal options may be limited.

Michelangelo created the sculpture of the Biblical hero between 1501 and 1504. It is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance art.

ArmaLite is known for producing the M16, the standard weapon for the U.S. Army and several NATO countries for many years.

[Il Post]

TIME North Korea

North Korea ‘Election’ Reports Perfect Turnout

North Korea Elections
People gather to watch performers near an election site in the Central District near Taedong Gate, in Pyongyang, March 9, 2014. Kim Kwang Hyon—AP

The first national 'election' under dictator Kim Jong Un -- with only one candidate on the ballot papers -- allows the state to conduct an unofficial census, as well as rubber-stamp state-chosen representatives for the national parliament

North Korea reported perfect turnout in the first national election under dictator Kim Jong Un.

The sham election allows the state to conduct an unofficial census, as well as rubber-stamp state-chosen representatives for the national parliament, reports the Wall Street Journal. Only one candidate appears on ballot papers in an election that features dance parties and music, and are intended as a celebration of patriotism.

Kim cast his vote for one of the almost 700 members of the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korean media reported, which meets occasionally to project the illusion of support for the regime’s decisions.

[WSJ]

TIME Ukraine

Ukrainian Prime Minister to Visit Washington D.C.

Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk arrives to a EU-Ukraine head of states Summit at the EU council headquarters in Brussels, March 6, 2014. Ian Langsdon—EPA

Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk plans to travel to Washington D.C. on Wednesday to discuss the crisis in Crimea and potential international support for his country's struggling economy with President Barack Obama

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced on Sunday he will travel to Washington D.C. this week to discuss the crisis in Crimea with President Obama and top officials and as the region moves closer to a March 16 referendum that could lead to its annexation by Russia.

Just a day after vowing Ukraine would never give up “a centimeter” of its territory to Russia, Yatsenyuk announced his trip to the United States, set for Wednesday.

“I am going to the United States to hold top-level meetings on resolving the situation unfolding in our bilateral and multilateral relations,” Yatsenyuk said at the start of a government meeting in Kiev.

The White House confirmed the visit, and added that the visit will emphasize “the strong support of the United States for the people of Ukraine.”

“The President and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk will discuss how to find a peaceful resolution to Russia’s ongoing military intervention in Crimea that would respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said the White House. The two will also discuss possible international support for Ukraine’s economy.

Kiev and Moscow remained on a knife’s edge Sunday, with the Kremlin acting as quickly as possible to facilitate a Crimean annexation to Russian territory, and the West debating heavy sanctions on Moscow. Russian troops remained in a tense standoff with Ukrainian soldiers Sunday.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a $1 billion aid bill for Ukraine’s fledgling government on Thursday, as the United States set travel bans and imposed financial sanctions on top officials deemed responsible for the Ukraine crisis.

[Reuters]

TIME Malaysia Airlines missing jet

Vietnamese Officials Cannot Find Airplane Debris Spotted in South China Sea

Malaysian Airlines missing aircraft
A picture taken by personnel of a Vietnamese search aircraft and made available by Tienphong.vn on March 9, 2014, shows what is believed to be a piece of debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines airplane Tienphong.vnt—EPA

Vietnamese officials say they spotted fragments of an inner door and part of the tail from missing 777 in the South China Sea, but could not find the debris after searching overnight

Updated: 11:02 p.m. E.T.

Vietnamese air-rescue crews spotted floating fragments in the South China Sea on Sunday that they suspect may be debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. However, after searching overnight they still could not find a rectangle object spotted and thought to be one of the jet’s doors.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication said it had located fragments of an inner door and part of the plane’s tail, about 50 miles (80 km) south-southwest of Tho Chu Island, the Wall Street Journal reports. It released a photograph purportedly showing a piece of debris.

Reports of the discovery came as the Malaysian air force said the missing jet might have turned back before vanishing, as international authorities investigated up to four passengers with suspicious identities.

The Malaysian air force did not say which direction the plane turned when it supposedly went off course or how long it flew in a new direction, but air-force chief Rodzali Daud did say that evidence from military radar “in some parts” was “corroborated by civilian radar,” the Associated Press reports.

Authorities are investigating the identities of at least four passengers on the flight. Two of the names listed on the flight’s manifest match the names on two passports that were reported stolen in Thailand, Foreign Ministries in Italy and Austria said. China’s e-ticket verification system suggests the people who traveled on the stolen passports bought their tickets together.

The Boeing 777 plane was carrying 239 people including crew and passengers when it lost contact with ground control somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam. It was en route to Beijing after leaving Kuala Lumpur early Saturday morning.

The unusual circumstances of the disappearance — the weather was mild, the plane was cruising, and the pilots did not send a distress signal — have led some experts to suspect foul play, even as authorities continue to search for the remains of the plane.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Vice President Dies from Illness

In this Sept. 22, 2011 file photo, Afghanistan’s Vice President Field Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim attends a press conference honoring former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul, Afghanistan Kamran Jebreili—AP

Afghanistan's government announced on Sunday that Mohammed Qasim Fahim, who served as the head of the the nation’s intelligence service in the 1990s, and was appointed as first Vice President in 2009, has died of natural causes

Afghan Vice President Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim has died of natural causes, the government announced on Sunday, and three national days of mourning will be observed.

The official Twitter account of Aimal Faizi, the spokesperson of President Hamid Karzai, stated that Kabul has called for the flag to be flown at half-mast during that time.

Fahim, 56, was reportedly suffering from diabetes and died as a result of illness at his home in Kabul, according to Tolo News. AFP reports Fahim was labeled a “ruthless strongman” who received U.S. support after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

According to an official biography, Fahim was born in 1957 in Panjshir province in northern Afghanistan. He fought against the nation’s Soviet occupation alongside military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Fahim served as the head of the the nation’s intelligence service in the 1990s, and was appointed as first Vice President in 2009.

His death comes ahead of the planned withdrawal of most foreign troops in December, and less than a month before Afghanistan’s national elections take place. Voters are due to decide a replacement for the mercurial Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from running for another term.

President candidates Ashraf Ghani and Zalmai Rassoul both quickly expressed their condolences on Twitter. “I am deeply saddened & shocked by the news of Marshal Qasim Fahim, 1st VP’s, passing. My heartfelt condolences with his family and #Afg ppl,” wrote Rassoul, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs who stepped down from office to run for president this year.

[AFP]

TIME China

Stolen Passports Used on Missing Malaysian Airliner

Risman Siregar, left, comforts his wife Erlina Panjaitan, center — both are parents of Firman Chandra Siregar, a 24-year-old Indonesian passenger of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — on March 9, 2014, in Medan, Indonesia
Risman Siregar, left, comforts his wife Erlina Panjaitan, center — both are parents of Firman Chandra Siregar, a 24-year-old Indonesian passenger of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — on March 9, 2014, in Medan, Indonesia Atar—AFP/Getty Images

At least two of the passengers listed on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370's manifest were not on board the now missing aircraft

It has been a week of lost innocence for China. On March 1, a brutal massacre by machete- and dagger-wielding assailants claimed 29 lives in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, bringing the specter of terror to a nation unused to such horrifying episodes. The Chinese government has identified the attackers as separatists from the northwestern region of Xinjiang who were intent on joining a global jihadi movement. Then a week later, tragedy descended again. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 destined for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur disappeared without a trace in the early hours of March 8. Of the 227 passengers, 154 were listed as coming from mainland China or Taiwan, with 38 Malaysians making up the second largest national contingent. (The dozen members of the flight crew were also Malaysian.)

Malaysia is a popular holiday destination for Chinese, particularly during the wintry, smoggy season in China. Late last year, Malaysia’s tourist authority predicted 2 million Chinese would visit in 2014. Among the Chinese believed to have boarded the flight are many holiday seekers and 29 members of an artist delegation from Sichuan province who were taking part in an exhibit in Kuala Lumpur. Others on the plane manifest included a group of 20 Malaysian and Chinese employees of a Texas semiconductor firm. Several expatriates living in Beijing are believed to have been on the flight as well, including students at the French school and a Canadian couple. Four Americans including an infant were also thought to have been on board.

(MORE: Search Expanded for Missing Malaysian Airlines Flight)

With the plane still missing, the focus remains on search-and-rescue operations that are centered in waters off Vietnam. But flight experts, who are working with a frightening paucity of information, have concentrated on possible explanations of what went wrong: a catastrophic mechanical failure of the airplane or pilot error — like what happened to Air France Flight 447 in 2009 over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 on the jetliner — or some kind of malign human intervention. “I would say right now that the probability of terrorism is low, but it should not be discounted,” says Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “The investigation needs to be carried out with all possibilities considered: an act of sabotage, crime or terrorism, as well as mechanical failure.” Malaysian officials say they are not discounting any theory, including terrorism.

Despite this age of high-tech communications and surveillance, few details have emerged about what led MH370 to simply disappear from the sky. The aircraft was a Boeing 777, which has a workhorse reputation and a strong safety record. But some of the few pieces of information that have emerged are troubling. At least two of the passengers listed on the plane’s manifest, it turns out, were not actually on the flight. Local governments have confirmed that an Italian and Austrian, whose names were on the passenger list released by Malaysia Airlines, had their passports stolen in Thailand over the past two years. International law-enforcement agencies have been called in to help, including the FBI.

Whether or not the passports turn out to have had anything to do with the flight disaster, security expert Gunaratna says MH370’s fate highlights the need for governments to better coordinate in sharing information on stolen or lost passports. Interpol maintains a database on such passports, and the service is free. Around 40 million passports have been logged in the system. But registration with the service by local governments and usage of the database by immigration authorities are spotty. Only a “handful” of governments dutifully check in, according to Interpol, which estimates that last year more than a billion flights were taken by people whose passports were not screened against the database. Altered passports can be used for everything from drug running and illegal immigration to, potentially, terrorism. “This is a situation we had hoped never to see,” said Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble in a statement. “For years Interpol has asked why should countries wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates.”

In its statement, Interpol confirmed that both the Austrian and Italian passports had been entered into their registry, one in 2012 and the other in 2013. Yet Malaysian immigration authorities did not discover the deception because they never checked the database. In fact, Interpol reports that no country’s authorities had ever checked the registry for these two passports. “Aviation is the most sensitive security domain of all, and there’s clearly been a glaring flaw in the security system because no one should be able to board a flight on someone else’s passport,” says Gunaratna. “Everything must be done to ensure there is no security breach; everything must be done to prevent any incident.”

Regional security analysts credit the Malaysian government’s commitment to counterterrorism, with efforts redoubled as Malaysian nationals were previously implicated in a series of terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia. At the same time, Malaysia is a regional air hub that deals with a large number of transit passengers. Two bombmaking masterminds linked to the Bali bombings and a string of hotel and embassy attacks in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, were Malaysian. Both are deceased.

Two security experts, one American, say that they had heard no intelligence chatter about a possible terrorist attack involving airplanes in East Asia. That, of course, does not mean that such an incident could not occur. But there has been no sustained, consistent pattern of Asian terrorist groups targeting regional airlines.

None of this speculation can ease the sorrow of the families of the 239 passengers and crew of MH370. Chinese who just a week ago took to social media to pour out their grief for the Kunming attack, found themselves mourning anew. A week of horror continues.

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