Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777

Could Uighur separatists have seized missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370?

Keeping in mind that no wreckage has been  found and we do not know who commandeered Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 or why they did it, I ask the following question:

Could Uighur separatists have hijacked the flight?

In my last post, we took a look at radar coverage along the northern corridor to determine whether it is as impenetrable as many officials and experts claim. We discovered that in some places, it’s operated during the day on an as-needed basis and turned off at night.

Why?

Because it’s too expensive to operate.

We also are discovering that the Southeast Asian nations are reluctant to admit the limitations and weaknesses of their respective radar systems. While understandable, this reluctance constitutes a barrier to solving the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370.

CNN is reporting today,

Jeffrey Beatty, a security consultant and former FBI special agent, says someone could have planned a route that avoided radar detection.

‘It certainly is possible to fly through the mountains in that part of the world and not be visible on radar. Also, an experienced pilot, anyone who wanted to go in that direction, could certainly plot out all the known radar locations, and you can easily determine, where are the radar blind spots?’ he said. ‘It’s the type of things the Americans did when they went into Pakistan to go after Osama bin Laden.’

In fairness, CNN notes in the same article,

U.S. officials have said they don’t think it’s likely the plane flew north over land as it veered off course. If it had, they’ve said, radar somewhere would have detected it. Landing the plane somewhere also seems unlikely, since that would require a large runway, refueling capability and the ability to fix the plane, the officials have said.

The northern corridor crosses the highest and most rugged terrain in the world, the Himalayas, a place where radar would not function very well.

Assuming for the sake of argument, that the last recorded ping from MH 370 originated along the northern corridor, the 777-200 ER could have reached Central Asia in the vicinity of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The latter three of those nations border the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China, which is just to the east.

Who are the Uighur?

Russia Today reports:

The Uighur are a Turkic ethnic group living primarily in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China, where they are officially recognized as one of the ethnic minorities. In 2009 violent riots broke out in the region’s capitol Ürümqi that mainly targeted Han (ethnic Chinese) people. Over 1,000 Uighurs were arrested and detained during the riots, over 400 individuals faced criminal charges. Nine were executed in November 2009.

On March 1st, just a little over two weeks ago, a group of assailants wielding knives killed 29 people at a train station in the south-western Chinese city of Kunming.

Daniel Politi reported in Slate on March 2, 2014:

The bizarre mass stabbing that killed at least 29 people and wounded 143 at a train station in southern China was the work of separatists from the far west of the country, according to authorities. Police fatally shot four of the estimated 10 masked assailants, bringing the total death toll to 33, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Although the identities of the attackers are still unknown, Xinhua publishes a separate story noting that ‘evidence at the crime scene showed that the Kunming Railway Station terrorist attack was orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist force.’ The far western region of Xinjiag is where members of the Muslim Uighur community have launched a rebellion against Beijing.

/snip/

How did 10 people manage to kill and injure so many people in such a short period of time? It seems speed, big knives, and aiming for the heads all played a role, according to witnesses who talked to Reuters. ‘I was terrified … they attacked us like crazy swordsmen, and mostly they went for the head and the shoulders, those parts of the body to kill,’ one injured 20-year-old said.

The Uighur separatists have not claimed responsibility for the attack.

China has good reason to be concerned about the Uighur separatists.

153 of the 239 people on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 were Chinese nationals. Whether the flight was hijacked to acquire the aircraft for use at a later time, in which case I would be looking for it in Xinjiang in the northern corridor, or if it were hijacked as part of a suicide mission, in which case I would be looking for it in the southern corridor, I would be focusing on the Uighur separatists as the group most likely responsible.

Photo by Aero Icarus released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.