For the past week, the Malaysian Airlines plane that took off from Kuala Lumpur headed for Beijing with 239 passengers and crew, including about 150 Chinese citizens, has been lost somewhere in the world, perhaps at the bottom of the sea. Or not.
Information I have received supports the theory that the plane is safe on the ground at an airstrip on a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and that the passengers and crew have been kidnapped by an extremist Uyghur group from Xinjiang Province, China. Their intent is to ransom the kidnapped passengers and crew and to call attention to the poor treatment of the Uyghur minority population by the majority Han Chinese in Xinjiang Province, China's most westerly province, north of Tibet.
The Uyghurs (pronounced "wee-gurr") are of Turkic ethnicity, and have a swarthy western, Caucasian appearance, and are much hairier than the Han Chinese majority. They are also Muslim, and have been regularly persecuted by the Chinese government, causing rioting and uprisings since the Uyghurs' arrival across the Silk Route from Central Asia many centuries ago. I have visited Xinjiang Province, and have met many Uyghurs.
In recent years, the Uyghurs have carried their protests eastward to Beijing, and in the past year a Uyghur group drove a large SUV onto Tien An Mien Square in Beijing, killing and injuring many people before their SUV caught fire and exploded, killing all inside. Recently, several Uyghurs have been deported from Malaysia, which is also a Muslim country.
The pilots of the Malaysian Airlines 777 are Zaharie Ahmed Shah, 53, a pilot since 1981 with over 18,000 hours of flight time, and Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, the co-pilot, with 2,783 hours of flight experience. Hamid is the son of a high ranking Malaysian civil servant, engaged to be married, and only recently started flying the 777. They seem to be steady, experienced pilots.
The Malaysian Airlines' 777 airplanes have been known to have weak cabin door protections against unlawful entry to the cockpit compared to American aircraft. This could mean that a group of four of so terrorists could take over the plane relatively easily, bursting into the cockpit, disabling or killing one of the pilots, and then having the airplane's communications systems shut down at 1:07 am, followed by the shutdown of the transponder at 1:21am. At the same time, others in the gang could go down the aisles collecting all cellphones, and warning that anyone who kept their cell phone or tried to use it would be killed on the spot. Perhaps they singled out one passenger to sacrifice to prove that they were serious.
They had the plane turn abruptly in the opposite direction back over Malaysia and Indonesia and on into the Indian Ocean, the third largest ocean in the world with 20% of the world's water and a span of 6,200 miles from the tip of South Africa to Western Australia. There are a number of remote islands and archipelagos in the Indian ocean, and some of them have landing strips capable of handling a 777.
Typical of these are the Chagos Archipelago, a group of more than 60 tropical islands 310 miles due south of the Maldives, an island group south of India. The only inhabited island in the Chagos Archipelago is Diego Garcia, which not many Americans know has been developed over the past 40 years into a huge American military base, in cooperation with the British, who obtained the island from the French in the 1815 Treaty of Paris. In November, 1965, the UK purchased all rights to Diego Garcia and the archipelago from Mauritius for 3 million pounds, and leased the island to the U.S. for 50 years, with an option to extend it 20 years to 2036.
In 1971 U.S. Seabees arrived and began construction of a communications station and airfield, which today has grown to two parallel 12,000-foot runways for B-52s and other long-range aircraft to operate. There is also a huge port which can handle the largest American naval vessels, and a nuclear submarine base. It is rumored that the island is also a CIA dark site, and that "renditions" have happened there.
In recent years, it has been an important staging area for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and in dealing with Pakistan. The Chagos Archipelago is about the same distance from Kuala Lumpur as Beijing.
Where Is the Plane?
It is quite possible that the Malaysian Airlines plane was forced down by its hijackers at one of the 60 unpopulated islands in the Chagos Archipelago which has a level stretch of land suitable for handling a Boeing 777, or a rough landing strip bulldozed out of the jungle. Even if the plane crash-landed there, it was not of concern to the hijackers, so long as the injuries were slight, since the plane was never intended to take off again. The passengers and crew were offloaded, the plane was camouflaged to avoid detection, and the passengers' luggage was gone through thoroughly for valuables. The passengers and crew were taken to the shoreline, and forced to board a waiting ship. The hijacking entered a new phase.
The ship with its 239 or so passengers then travelled a circuitous path northward, away from Diego Garcia, (which is on the south end of the archipelago), heading for its next destination. The hijackers have no intention of going public with their plans until they get themselves in the best position to accomplish their objectives. Those objectives could be:
- ransom money for each of the hostages;
- publicity for the plight of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and an apology from the Chinese for treating them as they have over the centuries; and/or
- independence from China of Xinjiang Province, and the establishment and recognition of a Uyghur state.
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