The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday called the attempted hijacking of a passenger flight in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region last week an act of terrorism.
Tianjin Airlines' flight GS7554.
Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters at a daily news briefing: "I need to point out that hijacking a passenger flight is a crime that should be condemned by people from anywhere in the world."
In the first official comments on the incident, a government official in Xinjiang told the Chinese language Global Times newspaper yesterday that police officers on the flight who were native Uygur language speakers were quickly able to find out what the hijackers were up to.
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 hijackers had tried to ignite explosives on board and had managed to get other banned items on the plane, such as a special walking stick and cigar lighters and matches, he said.
"One of them pretended to be a disabled man walking with a stick and passed security," he said. But when the hijacking began, witnesses saw the man separate the stick into several metal rods and give them to his accomplices. They used them as weapons to attack the passengers, cabin crew and police officers trying to stop them, the official said. "The explosive objects are the most terrible part of the hijacking plots. We are still investigating whether they are standard detonators or self-made bombs," he told the newspaper.
"The passengers, flight guards and police officers managed to stop them from being successfully ignited in time."
An investigation team is in the process of finding out whether negligence on the part of airport security staff was to blame or whether they were "some other reasons" the banned items had got onto the flight, he said.
The hijackers tried to injure themselves after they failed to set off the explosives, he said, and also when they were being held on board. But he did not reveal details of their current physical condition. All of them had been arrested after the plane landed.
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.
All the hijackers suddenly jumped from seats and shouted instructions to each other in Uygur language six minutes after the plane took off from Hotan Airport at 12:41pm. They tried to pry open the cockpit door with the metal rods but were stopped.
The hijackers were from different parts of Xinjiang, aged between 20 years old and 36, he said.
Two policemen on the flight were seriously wounded while the head attendant and seven passengers received minor injuries when they fought the hijackers, Xinhua news agency reported.
There were about 92 passengers and nine crew members on board the flight when the hijacking took place.
The plane was heading for Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, about 1,400 kilometers from Hotan.
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.