Six Uygurs, some disguised as disabled passengers, tried to hijack a plane yesterday shortly after it took off from Hotan in Xinjiang on a flight to the autonomous region's capital.
But crew and passengers on Tianjin Airline flight GS7554, bound for Urumqi , thwarted the hijackers. The suspects, who used crutches as weapons, were detained, local officials and airline staff said.
Xinhua said 100 people were on board the aircraft.
Hotan police described the hijack attempt as a 'serious and violent terrorist case' and announced the names of the suspects', according to Xinjiang's government-backed news portal Tianshannet.com.
But the German-based World Uygur Congress denied there was a hijacking attempt and said a seat dispute between Uygurs and Hans triggered an in-air brawl, Associated Press reported.
Xinjiang government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin told the South China Morning Post that three of the suspects had sat at the front of the airplane and three were in the back.
'Some of the six Uygur suspects were disguised as cripples and were carrying metal sticks that could be detached into pieces.
'One of the 'disabled' suspects who was sitting in the front seats suddenly disassembled his metal stick and tried to break into the cockpit, while his accomplices tried to help him,' Hou said. 'But they were all thwarted by crew members and passengers on broad.'
Passengers posted on their microblogs that some suspects had explosives. Hou confirmed that besides the fake crutches, 'weapons' were found by crew members and passengers.
'I can't tell you that what kinds of weapons were found, but our government needs to review the security system at Hotan airport after this incident,' she said. 'We don't know the [motive for] the attempted hijacking. It's still under investigation.'
Hou said at least seven crew members and passengers were injured in the incident, but none were in critical condition. Some of the hijackers were also injured.
Xinhua cited police as saying that two sky marshals were seriously hurt.
The plane took off from Hotan at 12.25pm and the hijackers struck 10 minutes later, tianshannet.com said.
A Tianjin Airline worker said the aircraft returned safely to Hotan airport at around 1pm and its flight to Urumqi was delayed until 4.30pm.
Tensions between the authorities and Uygurs in Hotan have run high since June, when police stormed an Islamic school. Xinjiang has also seen bloody clashes between Hans and Uygurs.