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ÜRÜMQI, CHINA — Six men attempted to hijack a passenger plane in northwestern China on Friday afternoon, injuring eleven passengers and crew members as they fought to subdue the attackers, authorities said. Their motive was not immediately clear.
Tianjin Airlines flight GS7554 was carrying 92 passengers and nine crew members when it took off from Hotan Airport in China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region at 12:25 p.m. local time on Friday. The aircraft was en-route to the regional capital of Ürümqi when the attempted hijacking took place.
"At 12:31 p.m., six people attacked the cockpit and attempted to hijack the aircraft," the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a statement. Passengers and crew members intervened and disabled the attackers, resulting in injuries to eleven people, including two security officers, two flight attendants and seven passengers.
The Chinese government praised the security officers, crew members and passengers for their brave acts, saying they played a key role in a time of crisis and made "outstanding contributions" to safeguarding national security. It said it would award those involved in the incident with China's honorary title of civil aviation anti-hijacking hero.
It was unclear whether the attackers were carrying any weapons or what their motive was. But the incident comes just days before the anniversary of violent clashes between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese in July 2009, leaving at least 197 people killed and more than 1,700 others injured. The riots were the region's worst ethnic clashes in decades and the violence only stopped when a large number of troops were deployed in the remote western region.
Following the riots, China cut all communications from the region to the rest of the world, including international phone calls, text messaging, and the internet. Thousands of additional security forces have since been deployed and thousands of 'riot-proof' closed-circuit television cameras have been set up in public places in an attempt to discourage any violence or unrest.
Over eight million Uighurs live in the Central Asian region of Xinjiang. A large number of Uighur are reportedly unhappy about the large migrant Han Chinese settlers, saying that they are making their interests less important and disregarding their culture.