Two men who allegedly tried to hijack a plane in China were beaten to death by passengers and crew, state media said today.
The men were part of a six-strong gang, aged 20 to 36, who attempted to hijack a Tianjin Airlines flight bound for Urumqi last Friday.
Minutes after the flight carrying 101 people took off from Hetian, southwest Xinjiang, three men in the front and three in the back stood up and announced their plans to terrified passengers, according to reports.
The group, all from the city of Kashgar in the west of Xinjiang, then broke a pair of aluminum crutches and used the pieces to attack passengers while trying to break into the cockpit, a regional government spokesman said.
They were tackled by police and passengers who tied them up with belts before the plane returned to the airport safely just 22 minutes later.
Several passengers and crew members were injured in the tussle. The alleged hijackers were taken to hospital where two of them later died, the state-run Global Times reported.
The newspaper said two others were hospitalised after mutilating themselves, but gave no others details.
The regional government spokesman added the men had smuggled suspected explosives on board. These were still being tested by police today.
Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority Uighurs (pronounced WEE’-gurs), but is ruled by China’s ethnic majority Hans.
There have been clashes between authorities and Uighurs resentful of government controls over their religion and culture.
An overseas rights group says the incident wasn’t a hijacking attempt but an in-flight brawl over a seat dispute.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress which campaigns for Uighurs’ rights, said that it wasn’t a hijacking attempt but an in-flight brawl over a seat dispute.
Friday’s incident occurred just a few days before the anniversary of the July 2009 riots in Urumqi when nearly 200 people were killed in fighting between Han Chinese and Uighurs.
Tensions are already high in Hotan, where authorities raided a religious school recently and are conducting home searches, according to the Washington-based Uighur American Association.