Kazem Ali, an Iranian citizen, has been named by police in Thailand as the man who purchased the plane tickets that were used with the stolen passports on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, according to CNN reporter Ram Ramgopal.
Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 vanished somewhere in the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam on March 7. All 227 passengers onboard are presumed dead.
Here’s what you need to know about Kazem Ali and his role in this tragic mystery.
1. The 2 Passport Holders Sought the ‘Cheapest Route’ to Europe
After the crash, it emerged that two passengers onboard were flying with stolen passports. While they have not been named, the middleman who helped them purchase their tickets — Kazem Ali — has been revealed.
Thai police say Ali told them that the two passengers were seeking the cheapest trip to Europe. Cops say this explains the “weird” route they were taking. One passenger was going to Copenhagen, the other to Frankfurt.
The identity of the two men who purchased the passports is known by authorities but has not been released publicly, reports The Malaysia Sun.
2. Kazem Ali Had Just Moved Back to Iran
Kazem Ali is an Iranian national and former resident of Pattaya, a popular Thai vacation resort. He moved back to Iran in 2013. The travel agent who sold the tickets to Ali tried to reach him over the weekend on the cellphone he used to contact her but it was out-of-service. The phone was in Tehran.
Ram Ramgopal reports that he is a “frequent” customer of the Thai travel agent who sold him the tickets. The tickets were paid for with cash, reports USA Today.
3. Ali’s Service as a Ticket-Buying Middleman Is Not Uncommon
There is no indication that Ali knew the two men were traveling on stolen passports. Benjaporn Krutnait, who owns the travel agency used by Ali, Grand Horizon, said it’s “quite common for people to book tickets through middlemen who then retake a commission.” The travel agent has reportedly told police she only knew him as “Mr. Ali.”
4. The 2 Passengers Have Been Described as ‘Not Asian’
The passports at the center of this controversy were stolen in Thailand in 2012 and 2013. It is not yet known how the two passengers came to possess them. According to CNN, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said the men are not “Asian looking,” adding that one of them is black.
5. Terrorism Has Not Been Ruled Out
Latest: US intel official tells me: "We have not seen anything so far that indicates this was an act of terrorism." #malaysiancrash
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) March 10, 2014
Terrorism has not been ruled out as a cause of the disappearance of flight MH370. The official Chinese news agency said that if it is a terrorist attack, the Malaysian security services should be held accountable.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, passport theft is rife in Thailand. Over the past five years, it’s estimated that 100,000 travel documents have been stolen and then sold on the black market. Criminal gangs are known to check into poorly secured hotels and then break into the rooms of foreign tourists. The going rate for the passport of an E.U. country is around $6,000.