China Grounds Flights Amid Hoax Threats

Chinese state media reports a hoax threat grounded a China Southern Airlines plane in Xinjiang autonomous region, from Xinhua:

The China Southern Airlines flight CZ680, traveling from Istanbul to Beijing via Urumqi, was grounded in the Zhongchuan Airport in Lanzhou, capital of Northwest China’s Gansu province, hours after its take-off from Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi.

The Boeing 757 took off again at around 10:45 pm at the airport after a four-hour-long security check found no explosives or any other suspected items.

An Internet user who claimed to be one of the passengers on the plane said she was not given any explanation before or after the landing.

“Without the maps app on my mobile phone, I would not even have known where I was,” said Baimifan at Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging website.

This incident comes amid tensions in Xinjiang and an ongoing crackdown on religious activities, including Ramadan earlier this year. According to AFP, the man allegedly responsible for the hoax is now under police custody:

Chinese police arrested a man in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang for allegedly making a hoax threat that forced a plane into an emergency landing, state media said.

The man, whose name was only given as Wang, confessed to making a “fake terrorist threat” that led to the plane landing on Monday at an airport in Lanzhou, capital of northwest Gansu province, official news agency Xinhua said, citing security officials.

Resource-rich Xinjiang is home to roughly nine million people from the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority who have long been angered by what many see as government oppression.

Such incidents on Chinese planes are rare, although a year ago a plane bound for Urumqi was forced into an emergency landing after a passenger claimed there was a bomb on board.

As fears over terrorist attacks from Uighur ethnic groups seem to be on the rise, Air China had delayed two flights due to unrelated security threats, the Washington Post adds:

Air China delayed two of its Beijing-bound flights to perform security checks Tuesday after it received threats shortly before they were scheduled to take off.

It did not describe the threats and said nothing abnormal was found.

The airline said on its official microblogging site that the planes were to take off from Lhasa and Nanchang.

Chinese media have reported at least four other incidents this year in which people fabricated threats — including bomb threats — against air travel for reasons such as blackmail, saving a romantic relationship, catching a flight or creating excitement.

See also Air China Turns Back After Threat, via CDT.

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