SECURITY has been strengthened at airports in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region following last week’s attempted hijacking.
All 16 airports in Xinjiang have raised security levels, a spokesman for Xinjiang Airport Group Co Ltd, the regional airport operator, said yesterday. Passengers need to have all their take-on bottles and most of their baggage opened for inspection.
In particular, disabled passengers will have to present hospital-issued disability certificates if they want to bring crutches or other mobility aids on board planes.
Passengers at Kashgar Airport, in southern Xinjiang near Hotan, must check in crutches and wheelchairs as baggage. The airport will provide mobility aids to help them get on board, said an airport official.
Six men tried to hijack a Tianjin Airlines plane after it took off from Hotan Airport last Friday.
The hijackers were said to have dismantled a stick or a crutch into sections for use as weapons. They tried to storm the cockpit but were overcome by flight security guards and passengers.
Major airlines operating Xinjiang routes, including China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airline, said the incident had not affected their business.
Xinjiang’s summer travel peak starts in July when airports become packed with travelers.
"In the past, passengers were asked to take off shoes and belts for security checks. But now, we have to check in hand-carry baggage as well," said Liu Jing, a tourist who recently flew from Kashgar to Urumqi. "It is definitely stricter. But as it is for our benefit, who can blame the airport?"
A tourist surnamed Li who traveled to Xinjiang in a group tour said that, despite the hijacking, they flew to Urumqi on schedule.
"I am confident the authorities will soon close the security loophole and air travel to Xinjiang will be much safer after the incident," Li said.
Xinjiang has been at the forefront of China’s fight against terrorism. Violent attacks have erupted periodically across the vast region over the past two decades. Experts say many are linked to a surge of religious extremism in the region.
On March 7, 2008, a 19-year-old Uygur girl on board a China Southern flight attempted to blow up the plane. But she was stopped before lighting a can of gasoline inside the plane’s bathroom.
In 2009, a Kam Air flight from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Urumqi was disrupted by a bomb hoax.
Yesterday was the third anniversary of Xinjiang’s worst riots in decades. On July 5, 2009, rock-flinging and knife-wielding thugs looted shops, torched vehicles and killed nearly 200 people in Urumqi.
Overseas groups were blamed for inciting the riots.
Xinjiang’s top official oversaw a counter-terrorism drill by special forces in the city on Wednesday and asked soldiers to remain vigilant and to strike separatists, extremists and terrorists with "iron fists."
"We should leave terrorists no place to hide," said Zhang Chunxian, secretary of the Xinjiang committee of the Communist Party of China.
After the 2009 riots, the central government increased aid to Xinjiang to help the resources-rich region prosper and solve the poverty that authorities consider the root problem of unrest.
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