Three suspected suicide bombers from the Uyghur community of northwest China were given death penalties and one was sent to life imprisonment by a court for attempting to hijack and blow up a domestic flight in June.
The court said that those sentenced were influenced by “religious extremism” for about five months last year but did not give further details.
A court in the remote and restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) ruled on Tuesday that men were guilty of organising, leading or participating in a terrorist group, hijacking the aircraft and attempting to detonate explosives on the flight.
The region has seen sporadic violence between the majority Uyghur community (more than 90 percent) and the Han community – in overwhelming majority in rest of China – in the last few years; the deadliest were the riots in 2009 when nearly 200 persons died according to official figures. Exiled Uyghur groups – who complain of domination by the majority community and Beijing’s attempts to negate their ethnic identity – claim the figures to be higher.
The Chinese government accuses the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of fomenting separatism in the region.
On Tuesday, the three given death sentences were Musa Yvsup and Arxidikali Yimin, the leaders of the group who plotted the hijacking, and Eyumer Yimin, a major participant in the planning, were sentenced to death, state-run Xinhua reported Tuesday, quoting a statement from the Intermediate People’s Court in XUAR’s Hotan prefecture.
“The group recruited Mametali Yvsup to participate in the hijacking, and they decided to blow up the aircraft and die along with all the other passengers onboard,” the court statement said.
Alem Musa, who played a minor role in the plane hijacking and willingly pleaded guilty after being arrested, received a life sentence. .
The incident occurred on June 29 when the Tianjin airlines’ flight GS 7554 was on its way from the airport of Hotan to Urumqi, the capital of the Autonomous Region, located around 2000 west of Beijing.
At least 24 people were injured in the incident in which passengers and flight attendants subdued the six alleged hijackers.
Two of the suspects were injured in the scuffle and later succumbed.
They six, according to state media, used converted metal crutches and explosives they carried in disguise, the statement said.
“They loudly shouted religious extremist cries, hit the cockpit door and physically and verbally assaulted the flight crew and passengers,” according to the statement which quoted court testimony.
“Twenty-four crew members and passengers were injured in the incident, which caused direct economic losses of 28.58 million yuan (4.58 million US dollars), said the statement.
The court found that the group had been influenced by religious extremists and terrorists from October 2011 to February 2012, and made preparations for their hijacking from mid-May to June this year,” the statement said.