A group that calls itself the Chinese Martyrs’ Brigade has claimed responsibility for crashing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which remains missing after losing contact with ground control at 1:20am on Saturday en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The previously unheard-of group sent a PDF statement to various journalists in China on March 9, saying, “You kill one of our clan, we will kill 100 of you as payback.”
The group asserts two motives for the alleged terrorist attack. The first is to retaliate against the Malaysian government for “cruel persecution,” though no further details were provided. The second is to respond to the Chinese government for its persecution of the Uyghur ethnic minority, which has been blamed by Beijing for a slate of terror attacks in the last few years. The most recent incidents include several organized assaults on police stations in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, a jeep crash in Beijing’s crowded Tiananmen Square, and a mass stabbing in the Yunnan capital of Kunming this month that left at least 33 people dead.
The Chinese Martyrs’ Brigade denies being a terrorist organization and refers to those who carried out the attack as voluntary “freedom fighters.” However, the group also expressed regret over having killed all 239 people on the Boeing 777-200 commercial jet as its primary target was the 153 Chinese nationals on board.
"We wished 100% of the flight was all Chinese people," the statement said, adding that the families of victims should seek compensation from the Chinese and Malaysian governments.
The group further warned that similar attacks will be carried out one after the other if the Chinese government does not reflect on its own national policy and human rights issues and stop its suppression of ethnic minorities.
The majority of Chinese media outlets have expressed skepticism over the statement or dismissed it outright, suggesting it is likely a hoax made up by opportunists looking to inflame ethnic tensions.
Analysts say the credibility of the statement is dubious as the group did not divulge any details as to how it crashed the plane. The PDF statement was also sent via the encrypted Hushmail anonymous remailer service which cannot be replied to or easily traced.
Neither the Chinese nor Malaysian government have responded to the statement or its claims.
Malaysia Airlines said it was not ruling out any possibilities, including terrorism, after it was discovered that two of the passengers aboard the flight were carrying stolen passports.
Malaysia’s home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has confirmed following review of closed-circuit television footage that the two passengers are of Asian appearance, which raises questions over the adequacy of customs security given that the passports were stolen from an Italian and an Austrian national. A spokesperson for Malaysia Air, however, said that all the photographs had matched the passports of the passengers.
Records show that the two passengers had booked their flights together with China Southern, which was codesharing MH370 with Malyasia Air. It was the first time the passports had been used since they were stolen in Thailand in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Two other suspect identities are also being checked as Malaysian authorities continue to work with international agencies including the FBI. One of them is a Chinese passenger surnamed Zhao whose passport number is identical to that of a 37-year-old Fuzhou man surnamed Yu. Yu told authorities that the passport has never been used and remains in his safe at home after he applied for it in 2007. Fuzhou police said they suspect the passport number on the manifest may have been printed in error.
Meanwhile, a Vietnamese plane from one of the search teams has reportedly sighted debris from the missing jet floating in the waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The announcement was made on the website of the Vietnamese Information Ministry and said the objects appeared to be a fragment of an aircraft’s tail and an interior door. The debris was spotted in the region near where planes earlier spotted two large oil slicks between six and nine miles off the southern tip of Vietnam, which are believed to be consistent with what would be left by fuel from a crashed jet.
Greg Barton, a professor from Australia’s Monash University, told the Sydney Morning Herald that whenever a modern aircraft vanishes from the sky a bomb is almost always the first suspect.
"Things will become clearer once wreckage or debris is found," Barton said, but added that if debris or black box data indicates a mid-air explosion then Beijing will likely link the incident to Uyghur separatists.