Australians Unhurt in China After Bus Hijacker Is Killed

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 6, 2008

BEIJING, March 5 -- A man armed with explosives hijacked a bus carrying Australian tourists Wednesday in the historic city of Xian, a rare act of violence against foreign visitors to China. The man negotiated for nearly three hours until police shot him dead as he headed toward the airport, Chinese and Australian officials said.

The 10 hostages and their Chinese interpreter were unharmed, according to Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who thanked Chinese authorities for their decisive intervention.

The incident came at a sensitive time as China prepares to welcome up to half a million visitors for the Beijing Olympic Games in August. Chinese authorities have repeatedly pledged that people attending the Games will be safe.

The official New China News Agency identified the hijacker as Xia Tao. It described him as a worker from Xian but did not mention his motives.

Xian, 600 miles southwest of Beijing, was an ancient imperial capital. More recently, it has become well known as the home of the terra cotta army -- thousands of life-size figures of warriors and horses that were buried near the tomb of an ancient emperor -- and draws tourists from around the world.

Xia took control of the tourist bus shortly before 10 a.m. in a square in central Xian, according to the agency, which did not describe the explosives Xia brandished or reveal his demands. After initial negotiations, nine of the 10 tourists aboard were allowed to disembark, but one Australian woman and the group's interpreter were kept hostage as Xia negotiated with police, Australian diplomats told the Reuters news agency.

Police allowed Xia and his two captives to transfer to a second vehicle, which at his demand they let him drive toward the airport. The New China News Agency said police agreed to the demand as a way to clear Xian's main plaza and move the confrontation away from the populous city center.

Stopped at a toll plaza near the airport entrance, Xia began a second round of negotiations with police. The police at that point refused to let the vehicle continue into the airport compound, the agency said. Finally, almost three hours after the hijacking began, police at the toll plaza shot Xia dead and liberated the captives.

"After repeated unsuccessful appeals by the police, they took the resolute step of opening fire," the agency said. "The hostages were safe and unscathed."

Smith, the Australian foreign minister, said the tourists were being attended to by Australian diplomats in China and would be able to return home if they wished, according to news reports.

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