The moral of this story is: Don't try to hijack a plane in China.
Two would-be plane hijackers were beaten to death by passengers and crew aboard a flight bound for the regional Chinese capital of Urumqi on Friday, The Global Times reports. The men died in the hospital from the injuries they suffered at the hands of those whom they thought would be their victims.
There were a total of six men involved in the foiled plot to hijack the Tianjin Airlines flight. All of the men were reportedly Uyghurs, a local Muslim ethnic minority.
Less than 10 minutes after the plane took off from Hotan airport in southwest Xinjiang, China at 12:25 a.m., the men, aged 20 to 36, announced their intentions to horrified passengers and attempted to storm the cockpit using a "broken crutch" made of aluminum as a weapon.
But before they could get to the cockpit, they were tackled by passengers and crew members who tied them up with belts and restrained them until the plane made it back to the airport about 20 minutes later. There were reportedly 92 passengers and 9 crew members on the flight.
"All six of the hijackers were ethnically Uyghur, and they tried to break into the cockpit using a broken crutch as a weapon, but were overpowered by passengers and crew," Hou Hanmin, chief of the regional information office, confirmed to the Global Times.
Hanmin also said the investigation is ongoing and it's unclear whether the men were part of a larger terrorist group. However, police are still examining materials the suspects were carrying, believed to be explosives.
At least seven people were injured in the scuffle with the hijackers. The remaining four suspects, who were lucky to escape with their lives, are currently in police custody.
The Global Times has more details:
Li Wei, director of the Institute of Security and Strategic Studies at the Beijing-based China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that, judging by the nature of the hijack, it was a terrorist attack.
"The hijackers adopted violent measures to threaten the lives of civilians and their intentions are also suspicious since we're coming up to July 5, the third anniversary of the riots in Xinjiang," Li said. "The successful frustration of this terrorist plot proves that airport security is very important and that it's also vital for the crew members and passengers to act quickly."
Authorities have reportedly started house-to-house inspections in Hotan city after an illegal madrassa holding 54 children was raided earlier in June.
"Separatists in Xinjiang are trying to make some noise before the opening of the 18th National Congress of Communist Party of China on the meeting of WUC in Tokyo. It shows that the hijack and other serious terrorist attacks in southern Xinjiang are motivated by exile groups overseas and the connection is close and underground," Li said.
At least 12 people were killed during terrorist attacks at the end of February, Xinhua reported.
Xinjiang officials participating in China's annual parliamentary session in March stressed their determination to fight terrorism.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, argues that the incident was only a fight over a seat dispute, not a hijacking attempt, according to News.com.au.
"We warn China not to use this incident as another excuse for crackdown," he said in a statement.
Two of the four living suspects are reportedly being treated in a local hospital after mutilating themselves.