China kills suspected terrorists, prevents 'air disaster'

Sunday, March 9, 2008

At the National Musuem of China in Tiananmen Square, a clock counts down the time until the 2008 Olympics begin.

In two separate cases, Chinese police have captured and killed suspected terrorists apparently targeting the 2008 Summer Olympics, and an airplane crew thwarted what appeared to be a planned hijacking, top officials said at a parliament session Sunday.

The suspect terrorist gang was found on January 27 in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region in northwest China. Two were killed and fifteen others were arrested. Police seized axes, knives, grenades, and "books about terrorism".

"Obviously, the gang had planned an attack targeting the Olympics," said Wang Lequan, Xinjiang's Communist Party chief. "The Olympic Games slated for this August is a big event, but there are always a few people who conspire to commit sabotage. It is no longer a secret now."

The gang was said to have collaborated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist movement labeled a terrorist organization by the United Nations. "Those terrorists, saboteurs and secessionists are to be battered resolutely, no matter what ethnic group they are from," said Wang.

Xinjiang is home to a many ethnic Turkic groups, the largest of which are the Uyghur. Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang government and himself an Uyghur, says only a very small minority support the views of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. "They don't represent the Uighur people," he said.

In another incident, an airplane destined for Beijing was forced to land early after "some people were attempting to create an air disaster," said Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang government.

The plane took off from Urumqi on Friday and landed in Lanzhou, capital of the neighboring Gansu province. The flight crew stopped the alleged attackers, and all passengers and crew are reported to be safe. The plane finally arrived in Beijing Saturday morning.

"Fortunately our air crew took resolute measures, discovered and put a stop to this action promptly. All the passengers, crew and the aircraft are safe," Bekri said.

No further details were made available. The suspects are in custody, as police try to find out "who the people involved in the incident were, where they were from, what their aim was and what their background was", Bekri said. An airline official did not confirm whether the incident was a terrorist attack, saying "it's up to the police department to verify." However, Bekri believes "we can be sure that this was a case intending to create an air crash."

An anonymous source told Reuters that flammable material was found in the plane's toilet, and that at least 2 passengers on the flight have been taken into custody for questioning.