An attempted hijacking of a Chinese passenger plane was thwarted today by crew members and passengers in the skies above the restive western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Tianjin Airlines Flight 7554 was carrying 100 passengers from Hotan Airport to the regional capital of Urumqi when, 10 minutes into the flight, six men allegedly attempted to hijack the aircraft, according China’s Xinhua News Agency.
Crew members and passengers were ultimately able to subdue the men and the flight was rerouted back to the desert town of Hotan, where the hijackers were immediately taken into police custody. Two in-flight policemen were seriously injured in the altercation while a flight attendant and seven of the passengers sustained slight injuries, according to authorities.
The police did not reveal the identities of the six men and made no mention whether they were armed.
A spokeswoman for the Xinjiang regional government told the BBC that the hijackers were from the Uyghur minority group and tried to break into the cockpit using a broken crutch as a weapon.
Pictures and accounts of the incident soon appeared on China’s microblogging site Sina Weibo.
A Weibo user apparently blogging from a luxury goods store’s account (weibo.com/seland) posted pictures from inside the aircraft after it returned to Hotan Airport showing a gaggle of heavily armed police officers on the tarmac.
“Rushed the cockpit, the security guards were seriously injured,” the Weibo user wrote.
“I heard that they had a big ball of explosives and they were more than six men,” the Weibo user wrote in another tweet. “All the passengers were questioned and they found another suspect.”
The latest photos from user showed unidentified passengers subduing a man in a blue basketball jersey in his seat and another with a passenger kneeling on the head of another suspect in what looks like the aisle of the aircraft.
China’s Xinjiang province has seen its fair share of ethnic violence in the recent years fueled by the growing resentment between the local ethnic majority of Muslim Uyghurs and the relatively more affluent Han Chinese residents.
Hotan was the site of a series of violent knife and bomb attacks last year that culminated in 18 Uyghurs taking over a local police station in protest to Chinese rule. Fourteen of the attackers were ultimately killed in a firefight and the four others were arrested.
The Chinese media described the incident as a terrorist attack.
The Chinese government often blames such attacks on Islamic separatists who are trained in “a certain South Asia country,” a not-so-veiled reference to strategic ally Pakistan that shares a border with China in southern Xinjiang and not far from Hotan.
As of now, according to authorities, an investigation into today’s attempted hijacking is underway.