Interpol knew about stolen passports that two passengers used to board an ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight bound for China, but no country checked the police agency’s vast database on stolen documents beforehand, it said on Sunday. Interpol hopes authorities will “learn from the tragedy.”

It’s not known whether stolen passports had anything to do with Saturday’s disappearance of the Boeing 777 bound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. But such oversights aren’t new. Last year, passengers boarded planes over a billion times without their passports being checked against Interpol’s database of 40 million stolen or lost travel documents, said the international organisation based in Lyon, France.

Interpol has sounded the alarm on the issue for years, and just last month it bemoaned that “only a handful of countries” regularly use its database of stolen or lost travel documents from 167 countries. For example, the database was searched more than 800 million times last year but one in eight searches was conducted by United Arab Emirates alone.

On Sunday, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said in a statement that his organisation has long asked why countries would “wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates.”

“Now, we have a real case where the world is speculating whether the stolen passport holders were terrorists, while Interpol is asking why only a handful of countries worldwide are taking care to make sure that persons possessing stolen passports are not boarding international flights,” he said.

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