BEIJING - A 19-year-old woman has confessed to attempting to hijack and crash a Chinese passenger plane that had to be diverted earlier this month after suspicious liquid was found on board, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday.
Xinhua said the woman confessed to a "terrorist" attempt on the March 7 flight to Beijing from Urumqi, the capital of China's Muslim Xinjiang region. The flight was diverted to Lanzhou, in western Gansu province, after one or more passengers were found with suspicious liquids.
The woman is from China's Turkic Muslim Uighur minority, Xinhua said, and officials have called the attack part of a terror campaign to turn the region into an independent nation called East Turkestan.
China frequently says people have confessed to crimes. It was impossible to know if the woman had a lawyer to comment on her case.
China Central Television reported Thursday that the plot was a terrorist attack that had been organized and premeditated.
A male suspect previously confessed to masterminding the plot to crash the China Southern flight, but no further details have been released.
The unidentified woman had drained soda cans, used a syringe to fill them with gasoline and poured the contents in the plane's bathroom, next to the fuel-filled wings, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported Wednesday.
A flight attendant who smelled the gasoline and discovered the woman was awarded $17,000 for her effort, the Southern Metropolitan Daily said Thursday. The crew was given $57,000 in total, the paper said.
Xinjiang is a predominantly Muslim region with a culture that is distinctly different from that of China's ethnic Han majority. Uighurs have been sentenced to long prison terms or death on separatism charges, while use of the Uighur language is declining in schools and China's ethnic Han majority dominate the region's economy and government.
China responded to the incident by stepping up security at its airports, on top of stringent security plans being put in place for the Olympic Games in August. Passengers have been banned from carrying any kind of liquid aboard domestic flights, and passenger and luggage searches have been increased.