Did terrorists take control of Flight 370?

Updated 9:36 AM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014

Story highlights

Officials say Flight 370 was diverted, but how likely is it that terrorists were responsible?

Peter Bergen says known terrorist groups seem unlikely to be involved

Jemaah Islamiyah has a presence in Malaysia, but it has been on the decline, he says

Bergen: If a terrorist group was responsible, it hasn't acted to achieve any political aims

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of “Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden – From 9/11 to Abbottabad.”

CNN —  

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters over the weekend that “deliberate” action by somebody on board accounted for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 veering off course.

Could the mystery of Malaysia Airlines 370 then be explained as an act of terrorism?

To answer that you have to assess both the capabilities and the intentions of the known terrorist groups that might want to hijack such a plane. And you have to ask the question: Cui bono? For whose benefit?

Peter Bergen
Tim Hetherington for CNN
Peter Bergen

The al Qaeda-affiliated group, Jemaah Islamiyah, has a presence in Malaysia as well as in the Philippines and Indonesia. But the group has been under sustained law enforcement pressure for more than a decade after it bombed nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002, killing more than 200 people, mostly Western tourists. The group has also carried out bombings at the Australian Embassy in Indonesia and the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotels in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

However, the capabilities of the once-potent Jemaah Islamiyah have eroded over time. And would Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamist militant group, target for attack the air carrier of a majority Muslim country on which quite a number of Muslims were likely traveling? It is more plausible that the group would select a Western airline because Western embassies and Western brand-name hotels have been the focus of their previous attacks and plots.

A terrorist group that might have a motive is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist group in China founded by Uyghurs that has had some historical ties to al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Uyghurs are an ethnic group in western China who are Muslim. The group has conducted a number of terrorist attacks in China.

Uyghur terrorists might have a motive to hijack the Malaysia Airlines flight as it was bound for Beijing and most of the passengers were Chinese. But Uyghur militants have operated almost exclusively inside China. And when they have tried to mount hijackings in the past they have been complete flops. On March 9, 2008, a 19-year old Uyghur woman attempted to set off some kind of explosive device on a flight from the Xinjiang Uyghur region en route to Beijing. The flight crew detained the woman before she could detonate the device.