Alleged Plane Hijackers Die in Custody

Chinese state media has reported that two alleged ‘plane hijackers’ have died in custody in Xinjiang, from the BBC:

The Global Times said the men, from the Uighur minority group, died in hospital of injuries sustained trying to break into the plane’s cockpit.

Six people were detained after the incident on Friday, in which several people were injured.

The Global Times, citing unnamed officials, said the men had died “from injuries received in a fight with passengers and crew”.

The Tianjin Airlines plane had just taken off from Hotan and was bound for Urumqi when the incident occurred.

Furthermore, authorities are claiming that the two men were staging a terrorist attack, the Irish Times adds:

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.

According to the Shanghai Daily, the passengers and crew would receive a monetary reward for their bravery aboard the flight:

Six police officers, five of them from the Uygur ethnic minority, were on Tianjin Airlines’ flight GS7554, the unidentified official, said to be commander of operations on the ground, told the newspaper.

The official said Liu Huijun, a passenger sitting next to the cockpit in the first-class section, was one of the first people to figure out that the hijacking was under way and he shouted out a warning to other passengers. Liu knocked an explosive device out of the hands of a hijacker but he was hit on the head.

The Xinjiang government said yesterday that each of the 10 people, including police officers, flight attendants and passengers who helped fight the hijackers, would receive a 100,000 yuan (US$15,751) reward for their bravery.

The cabin crew would also share a 500,000 yuan reward.

Tensions between Han and Uighur ethnic groups have been high in Xinjiang in recent years. Uighur rights groups to claim that the attack was actually due to a seat dispute, The Telegraph reports:

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress which campaigns for Uighurs’ rights, said Friday that it wasn’t a hijacking attempt but an in-flight brawl over a seat dispute.

Friday’s incident occurred just a few days before the anniversary of the July 2009 riots in Urumqi when nearly 200 people were killed in fighting between Han Chinese and Uighurs.

Tensions are already high in Hotan, where authorities raided a religious school recently and are conducting home searches, according to the Washington-based Uighur American Association.

Netizens and microbloggers have also commented on the incident, and some have claimed to have had friends on the flight. From The Guardian:

Microblog accounts from people who claim they had friends on the flights said passengers helped to overcome the men and tie them up.

One microblogger told AP: “They had a long crutch that can be broken into pieces, and the pieces had sharp ends.”

In another account, a businessman said the head of Xinjiang’s grain bureau told him that its vice director, known only as Mr Liu, had been on board and had extinguished the fuse of a homemade explosive device.

Read more about Xinjiang and the Uighur ethnic group, via CDT.


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