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Chinese bus hijacker killed, hostages freed

/ Source: The Associated Press

Police in China shot and killed a local man who took 10 Australians hostage on a tourist bus, a state news agency reported Wednesday.

The tourists were unharmed, and would return to Australia on Thursday, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said. But he could not say anything about the hijacker's motives.

"I'm very pleased to be advised early this morning that everyone is OK," Smith told Nine Network television on Thursday. Some were treated for "very minor" physical issues, he said, "but it was more shock and the horror of being involved in such a terrible situation."

The official Xinhua News Agency, citing local police, reported that the man had hijacked the bus in the popular tourist city of Xi'an on Wednesday morning.

It said the man, identified as Xia Tao, was armed with explosives and was shot and killed after a standoff that lasted almost three hours.

The Australian Embassy said it could not confirm the Xinhua's report that the man had been shot. Police in Xi'an did not answer telephone calls.

"There is no indication this was particularly aimed at Australia or Australians," Smith told Nine Network, adding that Australian consular officials had asked for a briefing by Chinese authorities.

The Embassy's public affairs counselor, Janaline Oh, said nine hostages were released early in the incident, but that Chinese police had to intervene to rescue a 48-year-old woman from New South Wales.

China is normally a safe destination for tourists, but more problems have arisen recently, especially robberies of foreigners.

Police in China have resorted to shooting in other hostage situations. In June, police in Shanghai shot and killed a man who was holding a young child hostage at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. And in June 2005, police in Xi'an shot and killed a hostage-taker.