Australians Taken Hostage in China Freed After Bus Hijacker is Shot, Killed

Police shot and killed a man armed with explosives who took 10 Australians hostage on a tourist bus Wednesday in northern China, a state news agency reported.

An official with the Australian Embassy in Beijing confirmed that the tourists were freed unharmed, but said she did not know why they had been taken hostage.

The official Xinhua News Agency, citing local police, reported that a man identified as Xia Tao hijacked the bus in the popular tourist city of Xi'an. The agency said he was armed with explosives and was fatally shot by police after a standoff lasting almost three hours.

Janaline Oh, a spokeswoman in the Australian embassy, said she could not confirm that the man had been shot. Police in Xi'an did not answer telephone calls.

Oh said nine hostages were released early in the incident and taken to safety. She said a 48-year-old woman from New South Wales was not immediately released and that Chinese police had to intervene to rescue her.

China is normally a safe destination for tourists, but more problems have arisen recently, especially robberies of foreigners.

"The Australian government is pleased that the hostages are now safe and the embassy in Beijing and Consulate General in Shanghai are providing consular assistance to the Australians affected," Oh said.

The freed tourists were headed to Shanghai, Oh said.

Police in China have resorted to firing their weapons in other hostage situations.

Last June, police in Shanghai shot and killed a man who was holding a young child hostage at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. In June 2005, police in Xi'an shot and killed a hostage-taker.