AFP reports: “A court in China’s restive Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang sentenced three men to death on Tuesday after they were found guilty of trying to hijack an aircraft and detonate explosives, state media said.
“The men, along with a fourth who received a life prison term, were among a group of six that tried to seize the aircraft after it had taken off from Hotan in the northwestern region and were thwarted by passengers and crew, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a court statement.
“The other two gang members died in the struggle, which also resulted in injuries to 24 crew members and passengers, the statement said.
“They were confronted after they tried to ‘detonate explosive devices’, the statement from the Intermediate People’s Court in Hotan Prefecture said, adding that ‘converted metal crutches and explosives’ were used in the hijacking.
“The men attempted to commandeer the Tianjin Airlines flight 1,400km away from its destination, the regional capital city of Urumqi.
“They were influenced by religious extremists and ‘loudly shouted religious extremist cries’ on board the aircraft, the Xinhua report said, citing court testimonies.
‘They decided to blow up the aircraft and die along with all the other passengers,’ it added.
Ringleaders Musa Yvsup and Arxidikali Yimin, along with Eyumer Yimin, who played a major part in the attempted hijack, were sentenced to death.
“Alem Musa received a life sentence as he played a minor role in the incident and showed “a good attitude” after being arrested, according to the statement.
“‘All the defendants confessed the above crimes at the court,’ the report added.
“However, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, disputed the official version of events, claiming that a fight over seating broke out on board the aircraft between a group of Uighurs and Han Chinese, the country’s majority ethnic group.”
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SCMP says, “Xinjiang stepped up security at its airports yesterday, aiming to prevent a repeat of last month’s attempted hijacking.
“The heightened state of alert coincides with the anniversary of deadly riots that rocked the far-western autonomous region’s capital, Urumqi, three years ago.
“The region’s party chief earlier warned that any separatist action would be met with an ‘iron fist’. Ethnic minority Uygurs make up a large minority of its population.
“Xinhua reported security had been increased at all Xinjiang’s 16 airports. Most baggage was being opened for inspection. Disabled passengers must present hospital-issued certificates confirming their condition if they want to bring crutches or other walking aids onto planes.”
“The new measures follow what officials said was an attempt by six Uygurs to hijack a plane carrying almost 100 passengers after it left Hotan for the capital on June 29. Two of the suspects died later in hospital. Police and witnesses said some of the hijackers dismantled an aluminium crutch and used the pieces as weapons.”
SCMP recalls, “On July 5, 2009, violence erupted between Han and Uygurs in Urumqi. Nearly 200 people, mostly Han, died during the clashes.”
SCMP says, “Six Uygurs, some disguised as disabled passengers, tried to hijack a plane yesterday shortly after it took off from Hotan in Xinjiang on a flight to the autonomous region’s capital”.
Xinjiang government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin told the South China Morning Post that three of the suspects had sat at the front of the airplane and three were in the back.
Some of the six Uygur suspects were disguised as cripples and were carrying metal sticks that could be detached into pieces.
“One of the ‘disabled’ suspects who was sitting in the front seats suddenly disassembled his metal stick and tried to break into the cockpit, while his accomplices tried to help him,” Hou said. “But they were all thwarted by crew members and passengers on broad.”