- The six suspects are ethnic Uyghurs, police say
- Two air marshals and two flight attendants are injured
- Uyghurs and Han Chinese have had rocky relations
- The country plans to honor the crew members, and passengers who offered help
Passengers and crew members thwarted an attempt to hijack a plane in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, local authorities said Friday.
Ten minutes into the flight between the cities of Hotan and Urumqi, six people on board the plane tried to take control of it "through violence," a short statement by the provincial police said.
The passengers and crew members managed to subdue the alleged hijackers, sustaining minor injuries in the struggle, police said. The plane then returned to Hotan.
Once the plane was back on the ground, police took the suspects, all ethnic Uyghurs, into custody. Police later released their names on state media.
The government said it plans to honor crew members and passengers who offered help. Two air marshals and two flight attendants were injured, the Civil Aviation Authority in Beijing said.
"During the incident, crew members were brave and resolute," the authority said. "The cockpit crew remained calm and landed the aircraft safety at the origin airport. Many passengers were courageous and acted promptly to offer help, highlighting their sense of justice and responsibility as citizens. They played a key role in an emergency situation by safeguarding state security, saving lives and protecting property."
Authorities said the case is still under investigation but operations at the Hotan airport have returned to normal.
Uyghurs are Turkic Muslims, a group linguistically, culturally and religiously distinct from China's majority Han population.
Chinese authorities have often blamed militants of Uyghur descent for outbreaks of violence in Xinjiang in recent years, labeling them terrorists.
Xinjiang was rocked by the worst violence in decades in July 2009 when rioting between Uyghurs and Han Chinese left nearly 200 people dead and 1,700 wounded in the regional capital, Urumqi.
Last year, the authorities carried out a two-month security operation, which ended in October, against violence, terrorism and radical Islam across Xinjiang, a resource-rich region that borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and several Central Asian states.