* Tianjin Airlines flight had just taken off from remote
* Passengers overpowered six suspected hijackers
* Xinjiang hit by sporadic violence in recent years
(Adds online pictures)
By Michael Martina
BEIJING, June 29 Chinese airline passengers
helped foil an attempt to hijack a plane in the western region
of Xinjiang on Friday, state media said, the latest incident of
instability in a part of China where the government says it is
facing violent separatists.
Passengers and air crew subdued six people who attempted to
hijack a flight 10 minutes after it took off from the remote
desert city of Hotan, a heavily ethnic Uighur area that has been
hit by recent bouts of violence, Xinhua news agency said.
The Tianjin Airlines plane was flying to the regional
capital, Urumqi, when the attackers were overpowered, Xinhua
said, citing police.
The aircraft returned to Hotan where six people were taken
into custody, it said.
The news agency did not identify the hijackers or give any
information about their background.
Xinjiang is home to the mainly Muslim Uighur people who
speak a Turkic language. Many of them chafe at Chinese
government controls on their culture and religion.
Two guards on board the plane were seriously injured in the
struggle with the hijackers, while the senior flight attendant
and seven passengers were slightly injured, Xinhua added.
Pictures posted on China's Twitter-like microblogging site
Sina Weibo showed grimacing passengers holding down at least one
of the suspects and what looked like blood on one of the seats.
In another picture, police could be seen on the tarmac,
apparently bundling off one of the hijackers. Reuters was not
able to independently verify the authenticity of the pictures.
Calls to Xinjiang's regional government and police offices
In March 2008, Chinese officials said they had foiled a plan
by an ethnic Uighur woman to bring down a flight from Xinjiang,
where airport security screening is supposed to be very strict.
The government, wary of instability and the threat to the
Communist Party's grip on power, often blames what it calls
violent separatist groups and religious extremists in Xinjiang
for attacks on police and other government targets.
In September, courts in Xinjiang sentenced four people to
death for violence in two cities last year in which 32 people
The government blamed the incidents in Kashgar and Hotan -
both in the majority Uighur southern part of Xinjiang - on
Muslim hardliners who want to establish an independent state
called East Turkestan.
In January, authorities said that seven people killed by
police in Xinjiang had been trying to leave the country to wage
China is concerned about Uighur activists linking up with
Islamist militants over the border in Pakistan.
Activists in exile and human rights groups say China
overstates the threat posed by militants in energy-rich
Xinjiang, which sits astride south and central Asia.
(Additional reporting by Sabrina Mao, Sally Huang and Ben
Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)