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Cablegate: Newspaper Reports On Airline "Terrorist" Incident;

VZCZCXRO3817
OO RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHBJ #0930/01 0731132
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 131132Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5699
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEAORC/US CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIJING 000930

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PREL PGOV KOLY CH
SUBJECT: NEWSPAPER REPORTS ON AIRLINE "TERRORIST" INCIDENT;
MPS PROVIDES MEAGER OFFICIAL RESPONSE

REF: A. OSC/FBIS CPP2008039968087
B. OSC/FBIS CPP20080309968143
C. OSC/FBIS CPP20080312701010
D. BEIJING 892
E. BEIJING 914
F. OSC/FBIS CPP20080312715009
G. OSC/FBIS CPP20080312968076

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) The Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao), a newspaper run
by the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily newspaper,
described on March 11 how a 19 year-old "Uighur girl"
smuggled gasoline contained in beverage cans onboard a China
Southern flight from Urumqi to Beijing. The article claimed
the girl's motive was to ignite the cans in the aircraft
lavatory, but was subdued. The most detailed account of the
incident appeared on a blog of a Chinese reporter from
Southern Weekend, a popular national newspaper owned by the
Guangdong CCP Committee. The Ministry of Public Security
confirmed the basic details of the incident in a fax sent to
the Embassy on March 12. Chinese media denounced claims by
"foreign media and some so-called politicians and academics"
that the incident was a hoax used as a pretext to taint the
Uighur community. End Summary.

CCP Media on Foiled Attack
--------------------------

2. (SBU) Xinhua reported on March 9 that CCP Politburo Member
and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) Party Secretary
Wang Lequan and XUAR Chairman (Governor-equivalent) Nur
Bekri, on the margins of the ongoing National People's
Congress, both said publicly that "some people were
attempting to create an air disaster" but that the flight
crew had foiled the attack. According to Xinhua, a China
Southern flight to Beijing departed Urumqi on March 7 at
10:35 a.m. and landed in Lanzhou at 12:40 p.m. after the crew
reported the incident to the control tower. Nur said the
authorities are investigating "who the attackers are, where
they come from and what their background is."

3. (SBU) The Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao), a newspaper run
by the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily newspaper,
published additional details on the incident in an article
published March 11 (ref C). Quoting an unnamed "informed
official source," the paper said a 19-year-old "Uighur girl"
from Kuche in the XUAR tried "to destroy" a China Southern
airliner flying from Urumqi to Beijing on March 7. The girl
passed through the business class security checkpoint at
Urumqi's Diwobao Airport, carrying a bottle of mineral water
and two "ring-pull cans of beverages." Although the girl
opened the water bottle and drank two mouthfuls at the
request of a security guard, the "young security checker" did
not make the girl open the cans, which contained "absolutely
not beverages but gasoline." "A tiny hole had been punched
in the cans, and after the beverages had been drained out,
they were filled with gasoline," the paper reported. To mask
the smell, perfume was added. During the flight, the girl's
"modus operandi" was to set the cans alight in the lavatory,
but "by great good fortune," the girl's activity in the
toilet was discovered. She was subdued and the plane made an
emergency landing in Lanzhou.

4. (SBU) The most detailed account of the incident appeared
on a blog of a Chinese reporter from Southern Weekend, a
popular newspaper owned by the Guangdong CCP Committee. The
reporter described how he used the Internet to track down a
first-hand account of the incident from a passenger onboard
the China Southern flight. The reporter published on his
blog an email from a passenger using the name "Luckie."
According to Luckie's account, after about an hour into the
flight, a passenger complained to a flight attendant about
the smell of gasoline. Luckie, seated in the rear of the
Boeing 757, heard a quarrel and saw a Uighur woman "about 20
years old" standing. She had been seated in the fourth or
fifth row on the right-side of the economy class cabin. A
man, who Luckie presumed was a security agent, went over and
subdued the woman. "There was no chaos. It was very calm,"
Luckie reported. At 12:46 p.m., the plane landed at
Zhongchuan Airport in Lanzhou, Gansu Province. Luckie
emailed periodic updates from the airport, describing the
investigation. "Supposedly four cans of gasoline were
found," Luckie wrote, and four "foreigners" believed to be
"East Turkestan elements" detained. (The blog address is
http://blog.infzm.com/space/?13722/action viewspace itemid
1574.html and translated at

BEIJING 00000930 002 OF 002


http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20080311 1.htm.)

5. (SBU) The reporter noted in his blog that his story was
never published "for reasons everybody knows about." (Note:
According to a Hong Kong-based PRC media analyst, the
reporter is probably referring to instructions from
Propaganda authorities that would typically be issued
following an incident of this nature banning publication.)

The PRC's Official Response
---------------------------

6. (SBU) The Ministry of Public Security, in response to
Post's inquiries, confirmed the incident. In a five-sentence
fax sent to Embassy Beijing's Legal Attache on March 12, MPS
said flight personnel on China Southern flight CZ6901
discovered a passenger with "suspicious liquids." "For the
safety of the passengers, the plane made a safety landing in
Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport, all the passengers and flight
crew were unharmed." "Relevant departments" continue to
investigate the incident, the MPS fax stated. (Post emailed
an unofficial translation of the MPS fax to EAP/CM.) When
pressed for details, an MPS official referred us to the
Global Times article.

7. (SBU) At the regular MFA press briefing on March 12 (ref
D), spokesman Qin Gang, when asked about the incident,
responded using points nearly identical to those mentioned in
the MPS fax. FM Yang Jiechi described the incident similarly
during a separate press briefing on the margins of the
National People's Congress (ref E).

Motive Speculation
------------------

8. (SBU) The Global Times, quoting an "official source," said
the 19-year-old girl's motive was "not to cause an uproar on
account of unhappiness with society," but to "deliberately
cause a terrorist incident." Li Wei, a counterterrorism
expert from the Ministry of State Security-affiliated China
Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR),
stopped short of saying the girl's actions could have brought
down the plane. Li told the paper that igniting the gasoline
could have caused a fire or a "small explosion within the
confined space of the aircraft cabin." China Southern's
Managing Director Liu Shaoyong went further, claiming in an
interview broadcast on Hong Kong Phoenix TV on March 11 (ref
F) that "past incidents were commonly motivated by personal
aims," while the recent incident "exhibits an obvious
political agenda" targeting the Olympic Games, the work of
the CPC Central Committee and the State Council and "China's
territorial integrity, stability and unification." (Note:
In his interview, Liu said the Uighur girl and a companion
intended to store the flammable material in the lavatory
trash bin and "activate it" at a "pre-determined moment.")

Human Rights and Human Bombs
----------------------------

9. (SBU) XUAR Chairman Nur Bekri reacted angrily to exiled
Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer's claim that the incident was a
hoax designed to smear her ethnic brethren (ref G). These
are "irresponsible claims" by "foreign media and some
so-called politicians and academics," he stated. "Any attack
on a civilian aircraft should be considered a terrorist act,"
Bekri said, asking "how can you apply double standards to
this?" A Chinese "expert on combating Xinjiang terrorism,"
quoted in the Global Times, said "hoodwinking a 19-year-old
girl into becoming a human bomb fully exposes the cruelty and
savagery of the terrorist organizations" who "always carryout
their terrorist acts in the name of human rights" in order to
gain Western support.
RANDT

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