The report surfaced online this weekend, titled "Intelligence Sources Weigh Whether Malaysian Plane Was Derailed To Prevent New 9/11." It suggests that the plane did not fall into the southwestern Indian Ocean, as investigators have insisted for more than a week after definitively concluding that the plane crashed and all on board are dead.
ABC is the oldest newspaper currently in circulation in Madrid, founded in 1903 and considered a center-right publication. It has not updated its original report on the whereabouts of Flight 370. The paper had a circulation of 271,000 in 2006, according to the BBC, slightly more than the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The paper most recently received international attention for breaking the story that doctors had diagnosed Hugo Chávez with terminal cancer in 2012 and that he would be unlikely to survive more than a year. Chávez died in March 2013. Last month, ABCpublished exclusive testimony from a Spanish citizen protesting in Venezuela who alleged he was beaten and raped with rifles while detained by the Bolivarian National Guard.
"Informed sources in this field consulted by [author Pilar] Cernuda insist that the possibility appears increasingly more plausible that, instead of the plane falling in the Indian Ocean, as the official version alleges, the Boeing 777 was hijacked by terrorists intending to crash it against some very sensitive target," the paper writes (the full article is only available in the print version, only sold in Spain). "No option remained other than derailing it to avoid what would have been a catastrophe similar in magnitude to that of September 11."
The paper compares this to the fate of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field after being derailed on September 11 from its intended target, though adding that, in this case, a government's military made the call to shoot it down. "It is very improbable that any Department of Defense implicated in an operation of this kind would admit its participation," the paper concludes.
The report has not been picked up by any English-language news sources. ABC News in the United States mentioned the theory that another country's military could have shot down the plane on March 13 but considered the possibility that the plane was simply not recognized by radar as civilian, rather than being shot down due to a hijacking. David Cenciotti, an aviation expert in Italy who runs the blog The Aviationist, entertained the theory as well almost a week later. Cenciotti noted that Thailand, in particular, had been slow to show the Malaysian government its military radar, which indicated the direction in which the plane went after it became invisible to civilian radar. These reports predate the announcement by Malaysian officials that they concluded the plane fell in the southwestern Indian Ocean, however; at the time, authorities believed the plane had flown over the Strait of Malacca and possibly into the Maldives, or as far north as Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.
Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a counterterrorism expert and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, suggests that the possibility proposed by ABC is "exceptionally unlikely." "Any such scenario is predicated on the decision being made that the specific airliner is an imminent and clear danger to the citizens of that country," he notes, citing the "enormity of the decision to make this kind of action" as sufficient to make it barely possible. Dr. Gorka gave as an example of how rare these incidents are the difficulty in considering such a decision even in the extreme circumstances of September 11, 2001.
That ABC provides no on-the-record sources or countries suspected of having pulled the trigger raises further questions. Dr. Gorka suggests that the report could be "part of a disinformation campaign," perhaps on the part of a source attempting to lead the media astray.
Evidence of the potential of a civilian plane hijacking in Malaysia existed shortly before Flight 370's disappearance. Al Qaeda sources had independently testified at unrelated trials that they were working to conduct another 9/11-style hijacking in Malaysia. One witness at the trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law testified to training Malaysian extremists in how to use a shoe bomb to break into a locked cockpit.
However, the theory that al Qaeda or affiliated extremists broke into the plane dismisses an enormous amount of research into and speculation about Flight 370's pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who was publicly supportive of the opposition movement in Malaysia and, by some accounts, "deeply disturbed."
Earlier today, Malaysian authorities released the official transcript of the final conversation between the pilots and air traffic control, issuing different last words than they had originally. The new version corrects the final dispatch to "good night Malaysian three seven zero," from the previously believed "all right, good night."