Subscribe to Breaking News emails

You have successfully subscribed to the Breaking News email.

Subscribe today to be the first to to know about breaking news and special reports.

Who Flew? FBI to Check Thumbprints of Impostor Passengers

by Richard Esposito /  / Updated 

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

The FBI is expected to analyze thumbprints of two men who used false passports to board the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared en route to China and see if they can find a match in their massive database, NBC News has learned.

Airport security took the prints from two men who boarded Flight 370 to Beijing at the Kuala Lumpur airport on March 8 using passports stolen from an Italian and an Austrian tourist. The plane, which had 239 passengers and crew aboard, went missing after take-off and is now the subject of a multi-nation hunt.

The FBI is currently waiting to receive the prints from Malaysia officials. U.S. officials say they are not leaning toward or away from terrorism as a motive for the two men, but are attempting to piece together as complete a travel itinerary as possible. Malaysian officials have already circulated photos of the two men who boarded the plane to foreign intelligence agencies.

Intelligence sources told NBC News that it appears the two men -- described loosely as "Mediterranean looking" -- began their journey in Qatar and at some point then made their way to Thailand. They used an Iranian middleman to purchase tickets for them in Thailand for the circuitous route from Kuala Lumpur through China to Europe.

It is a route, officials note, that is favored by budget travelers, as it is a very cheap, if slow, way to Europe. From China the two passengers intended to travel through Amsterdam, at which point their paths would have diverged, with one heading to Copenhagen and the other to Frankfurt.

The middleman, an Iranian referred to as "Ali," paid cash for the tickets. Shortly after Ali learned that two of his customers were the subjects of a worldwide investigation into the doomed flight, he came forward and told authorities how he purchased the tickets and detailed other assistance he provided the two men. The middleman is currently believed to be in Iran and U.S. authorities have not been in direct contact with him, sources said.

NBC News confirmed information reported in the Financial Times and other news outlets that the tickets were bought through the Grand Horizon travel agency in Pattaya, Thailand.

The Financial Times also quoted the agency’s owner, Benjaporn Krutnait, as saying the Iranian had asked her to book the two men to travel to Europe on March 1, specifying only that she find them cheap tickets.

She initially booked them on two separate flights -- one on Qatar Airways and another on Etihad Airways -- but the tickets expired before she heard again from the Iranian, she said.

He contacted her again on Thursday, and again did not specify a flight. She rebooked the men on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, which was also marketed as a China Southern Airlines flight under a codeshare agreement. This time a friend of the Iranian paid in cash, she said. Benjaporn then arranged for a larger agency, Six Stars Travel, to issue the tickets, according to Thai police.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
MORE FROM news

Have feedback?

How likely are you to recommend nbcnews.com to a friend or colleague?

0 = Very unlikely
10 = Very likely
Please select answer

Is your feedback about:

Please select answer

Leave your email if you’d like us to respond. (Optional)

Please enter a valid email address

Thank you!

Your feedback has been sent out. Please enjoy more of our content.

We appreciate your help making nbcnews.com a better place.