Suspected hijackers die following on-board fight


TWO MEN who allegedly tried to hijack a plane in far west China by battering the cockpit door with a crutch and trying to set off what were suspected to be explosives have died from injuries sustained in a fight with passengers and crew.

An overseas rights group said the incident was not a hijacking attempt but a fight over a disputed seat, but Chinese authorities insisted it was a terror attack.

“It is a serious and violent terrorist attack by means of hijacking an airplane,” ran a report on the official website for the Xinjiang region, Tianshan.

The Global Times newspaper reported that six members of the Uighur ethnic group used crutches and “held items suspected to be explosives” to break into the cockpit 10 minutes after the Tianjin Airlines flight carrying 92 passengers and nine crew members took off from Hotan to the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.

Two of the men died from injuries while another two suspects, who reportedly mutilated themselves, were being treated in hospital in Hotan. Four crew members were injured in the incident.

Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority Uighurs but is ruled by China’s ethnic majority Han. There have been clashes between authorities and Uighurs resentful of government controls over their religion and culture.

In July 2009, nearly 200 people were killed in Urumqi in fighting between Han and Uighurs.

Six police officers were travelling on the flight. “Nearly all the officers are Uighur people, who took fast action after distracting the hijackers,” an official said.

The six suspected hijackers ranged in age from 20 to 36 and were from the city of Kashgar.

Xinjiang regional government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin said the men took apart a pair of aluminium crutches and used the pieces to attack people while trying to break into the cockpit. She said they also had material believed to be explosives but police were still investigating.

The Global Times quoted witnesses saying the men were quickly subdued and their attempt to ignite explosives was foiled.

Airport authorities across China have strengthened security checks after the incident.

The German-based World Uighur Congress, which campaigns for Uighurs’ rights, said it was not a hijacking attempt but an in-flight brawl over a seat.