New Delhi - India on Monday rejected suggestions that it could have been the intended target of a 9/11-style attack by the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised maximum assistance in the massive hunt for Flight MH370, India's foreign minister said it was vital that the mystery over its fate was cleared up.
When asked by the CNN-IBN network about suggestions that the plane was hijacked with the aim of flying it into an Indian city, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid replied: “I don't think we have gone that far.”
The speculation was fuelled by former US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, who tweeted that the “direction, fuel load and range now lead some to suspect hijackers planned a 9/11-type attack on an Indian city”.
His comments over the weekend have been widely picked up by the Indian media and Khurshid said people needed answers to allay their fears.
“We hope to come to some conclusion that is both credible and reassuring,” he said.
The Times of India said security sources had “rubbished” the idea that the plane could have got anywhere close to an urban centre and insisted it would have been detected by a naval base on the Andaman islands, more than 1 000km off the Indian mainland.
“There is no way our military radars would have missed the airliner as it flew over the Andaman Sea, as there is high traffic around that time,” one military intelligence source told the paper.
The US-led Nato mission in Afghanistan meanwhile said it was not looking for the missing plane there, and Islamabad's Civil Aviation Authority said the flight never appeared on Pakistani radar.
Indian ships and planes scoured the seas off the sprawling Andamans archipelago last week but they suspended their search on Sunday as they awaited fresh instructions from Malaysian authorities.
“Operations are suspended as of now, everything is grounded,” Indian Navy spokesman D.K. Sharma told AFP on Monday.
“Malaysian authorities will now decide and tell us where to go. They have asked us to be on standby for now.
“We are awaiting further instructions. Once we have them, we will move.”
Prime Minister Singh's office said that his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak, in a phone call late on Sunday, had requested “technical assistance from Indian authorities in corroborating the possible paths that the missing Malaysian airliner might have taken”.
Singh “assured all possible assistance from concerned Indian authorities”, the office said in a statement.