China may have averted its own 9/11, albeit on a more modest scale and a much more modest modus operandi. Flight crew and passengers of China Southern overpowered would-be suicide terrorists on a flight from Urumqi, who had planned to create an “air disaster”. It involved brewing something explosive in the toilet:

China foiled a bid to cause an air disaster on a passenger jet en route to Beijing and the plane made a safe emergency landing, an official said on Sunday, in what state media called an attempted terrorist attack.

The China Southern flight originated in Urumqi, capital of the restive far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where militant Uighurs have agitated for an independent “East Turkestan”.

It landed in the northwestern city of Lanzhou on Friday after the crew discovered and foiled the attempt to “cause an air disaster”, Xinjiang Governor Nuer Baikeli told reporters on the sidelines of the annual session of parliament. …

The source, who requested anonymity, said inflammable material was found in the plane’s toilet.

The Chinese have their own issues with radical Islamists. Uighers comprise a significant part of al-Qaeda’s efforts in nearby Afghanistan, and their training and work in Pakistan aims eventually to conduct the same kind of “liberation” that the Taliban conducted against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They believe they can free the Muslim lands from Beijing through jihad, and this mission will not be the last to start a war.

Of course, the timing is rather obvious. Beijing will hold the Olympics this summer, and what better time for the Uighers to hold a violent uprising in Xinjiang? Conversely, it gives China a great opportunity and excuse to round up anyone with real or perceived connections to Islamist terrorists. The Uighers may find out that having terrorist allies will make life a lot more difficult in 2008, as Beijing will not risk humiliation on a global stage during the Games.

The expansion of the jihad could have other repercussions. So far, China has acted to block Western efforts to fight radical Islamists, and certainly has run interference for their greatest state sponsor, Iran. If the jihadists turn their sights onto China in any significant manner, Beijing may have little choice but to reconsider their relationship to the mullahcracy.