Reports: Separatist Forces Plotted to Crash Plane in Western China

A recent attempt to crash a commercial jet was an act of sabotage by foreigners seeking independence for China's Central Asian province of Xinjiang, the region's top politician said in comments published Thursday.

A male suspect confessed to masterminding the plot to crash a China Southern flight on March 7, part of a terror campaign to turn Xinjiang into an independent East Turkestan, the Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Xinjiang's Communist Party Secretary Wang Lequan.

"According to the investigation, it is now clear that this is a serious sabotage activity carried out by East Turkestan splittists outside of China," Wang said in comments published separately on a provincial government news Web site.

Wang did not specify the nationalities of the three suspects who have been detained in the plot.

Xinjiang is a predominantly Muslim region with a culture that is distinctly different from that of China's ethnic Han majority. Beijing has faced a simmering independence movement among the Uighurs, the region's largest Muslim ethnic group.

The reports came as Chinese authorities cracked down on unrest in the adjoining region of Tibet, following nearly a week of deadly rioting that included calls for Tibetan independence.

State media earlier reported that a 19-year-old woman from the Turkic Muslim Uighur minority group was seized on March 7 after trying to set fire to the Boeing 757 flying from Xinjiang's capital to Beijing.

The unidentified woman had drained soda cans, used a syringe to fill them with gasoline and poured the contents into the bathroom, next to the fuel-filled wings, the Global Times reported.

No one was injured and the plane was diverted to Lanzhou.

Since then, China has stepped up security at its airports, on top of stringent security plans being put in place for the Olympic Games in August. Passengers are now banned from carrying any kind of liquid aboard domestic flights, and passenger and luggage searches are being increased.