KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The pilot of the Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished more than a week ago is a strong supporter of the political opposition leader here, but friends vehemently deny that he is a terrorist.
Malaysian authorities said Sunday they were “refocusing their investigation” on the crew and passengers of Flight 370. Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said officers from the Royal Malaysia Police visited the home of the pilot, spoke to family members and began examining his flight simulator.
A high-ranking special branch officer, Malaysia’s elite investigative unit, confirmed to USA TODAY that a laptop belonging to pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah was being picked apart for clues.
Zaharie has close ties with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who has been fighting a charge of sodomy. Hours before boarding the flight, Zaharie turned up at the Court of Appeal in the country’s new administrative capital, Putrajaya, for a hearing at which Anwar was sentenced to five years in prison. The opposition is appealing Anwar’s prison sentence.
Speaking to USA TODAY, a close friend of Zaharie, Peter Chong, said Zaharie does support the opposition but that the reports that he may have had a role in diverting the plane were “not true.”
“He is a political activist, yes. And yes, he was in court for Anwar’s trial and he is our strong supporter, but that does not make him a terrorist,” Chong said.
The scrutiny follows revelations Saturday that someone aboard the jet made a series of highly technical actions to deliberately hide the plane from modern detection systems. Prime Minister Najib Razak said the path of the flight, missing since March 8, was altered shortly after takeoff. The last known signal from the airliner came more than seven hours after takeoff…. see more