Biggest attack in years kills 31 in China’s troubled Xinjiang

BEIJING, (Reuters) – Explosives hurled from two vehicles which ploughed into an open market in China’s troubled Xinjiang killed 31 people today, state media reported, the deadliest act of violence in the region in years.

China called the attack in the regional capital of Urumqi a “serious violent terrorist incident” and domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu vowed to strengthen a crackdown on the “arrogance of terrorists”. Ninety-four people were wounded.

China has blamed a series of knife and bomb attacks in recent months on separatist militants from Xinjiang, the traditional home of the ethnic Muslim Uighurs.

The cross-country vehicles rammed into shoppers in an open market, Xinhua news agency reported, citing witness reports. Explosives were flung out of the windows, and one of the vehicles exploded.

One witness told Reuters he saw the aftermath of the blasts on his way to work. “The air was full of the smell of gunpowder and the sound of sobbing,” he said. “There were simply too many (casualties), old folks who were at the morning market.”

A business owner told Xinhua he had heard a dozen loud explosions at the market near Renmin Park in downtown Urumqi.

Xinjiang has been plagued by violence for years, but rights activists and exile groups say the government’s own heavy handed policies in the region have sowed the seeds of unrest.

Photos posted on social media purportedly of the blast, but not verified by Reuters, showed a column of smoke and chaos at the market, with bloodied people lying on the tree-lined road near small stands selling fruit, vegetables and eggs.

“There were two vehicles that drove like crazy towards the morning market,” another witness who declined to give his name told Reuters by telephone. “The market was total chaos. Hawkers and shoppers started running everywhere… it was definitely a terrorist act. I’m so angry.”

Other photos showed riot police on the scene and bodies lying amid flames. Produce and debris were scattered across the street.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said in an e-mail to Reuters that while he wasn’t sure who committed the attack, he believed Beijing’s policies in the region should be examined.

“The volatility of the situation and Beijing’s repressive policies in the area have a direct relationship to this,” Rexit said. “I urge Beijing not to use this incident as an excuse to expand repressive policies, and instead to adjust policies to ameliorate a deteriorating situation.”

“TERRORISTS SWOLLEN WITH ARROGANCE”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the attack “should be condemned jointly by the Chinese people and the international community”.

“The Chinese government has the confidence and the ability to combat the terrorists,” Hong said at a daily news briefing. “These terrorists are swollen with arrogance. Their schemes will not succeed.”

In a posting on its Chinese-language microblog account, the U.S. Embassy said it offered condolences to victims of the “violent attack”, but stopped short of labelling it terrorism.

The Xinjiang government could not be immediately reached for comment.

President Xi Jinping said police would “step up patrols and security controls over possible terrorist targets and prevent ripple effects”, Xinhua reported. Xi vowed to “severely punish terrorists”.

The attack was the deadliest in a recent series targeting crowded public places in China. In March, 29 people were stabbed to death at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming.

A bomb and knife attack earlier this month at an Urumqi train station killed one bystander and wounded 79. A car burst into flames at the edge of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October, killing five people, in what Beijing said was a terrorist attack.

China has said Islamist militants from Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Separatist groups in Xinjiang are seeking to form their own state called East Turkestan.

Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, is home to the Uighur people, a mostly Muslim ethnic group who speak a Turkic language and are culturally distinct from China’s ethnic Han majority.

Violent riots shook the region in 2009, when hundreds of locals took to the streets in Urumqi, burning and smashing vehicles. Dozens were killed in the unrest.

But exiles and rights groups say China’s repressive policies that have targeted religious freedoms and economic opportunities for Uighurs are the culprits when it comes to unrest.

In recent weeks, China has strengthened a crackdown on Uighurs in the region, jailing dozens for spreading extremist propaganda and manufacturing arms, among other charges.

Christopher Johnson, a former China analyst at the CIA, said China’s leadership may come to the realisation that a policy of constantly tightening controls on Xinjiang may not be effective in preventing attacks.

“I’m kind of doubtful that they are going to announce some sort of more liberal policy,” said Johnson, who now works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“But sooner or later I think they are going to have to come to that reality because the evidence is just smacking them in the face.”

Latest in World News

Jeremy Corbyn

EU vote triggers open conflict in Britain’s main parties

LONDON,  (Reuters) – Britain’s two main parties were in open conflict on Sunday after a vote to leave the EU triggered an attempted “coup” in the main opposition Labour Party and a bitter leadership contest in the ruling Conservatives.

default placeholder

Merkel sees no need to rush Britain into quick EU divorce

LONDON/BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought yesterday to temper pressure from Paris, Brussels and her own government to force Britain into negotiating a quick divorce from the EU, despite warnings that hesitation will let populism take hold.

default placeholder

UK’s Johnson wins backing from Gove for prime ministerial bid

LONDON (Reuters) – Boris Johnson, one of the leaders of the successful “Leave” campaign in Britain’s European Union membership referendum, has won the backing of a key colleague to replace David Cameron as prime minister, a newspaper reported.

A model presents a bulletproof clothing by the Miguel Caballero Factory at the Chico Museum in Bogota, Colombia, June 24, 2016. (Reuters/John Vizcaino)

Colombian designer makes fashion business bulletproof

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Miguel Caballero’s designs are not just chic, they could save your life. But his creations come at a price.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016. Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

Cameron quits after Britain votes to leave EU

LONDON,  (Reuters) – Britain has voted to leave the European Union, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and dealing the biggest blow since World War Two to the European project of forging greater unity.

default placeholder

South African court blocks appeal by Zuma over corruption charges

PRETORIA,  (Reuters) – South African President Jacob Zuma failed yesterday in his appeal against a court ruling that corruption charges against him be reinstated, another setback for the leader who has been facing calls for his resignation.

default placeholder

Britain votes to leave EU in historic divorce – BBC

LONDON, (Reuters) – Britain has voted to leave the European Union, the BBC said based on voter tallies from yesterday’s referendum, an outcome that would set the country on an uncertain path and deal the largest setback to European efforts to forge greater unity since World War Two.

Cuba's President Raul Castro (C) looks as Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (L) shakes hands with FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, after signing a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Tears of joy as rebels sign ceasefire with Colombian government

HAVANA/BOGOTA,  (Reuters) – Colombia’s government and leftist FARC rebels signed a historic ceasefire deal yesterday that brought them tantalizingly close to ending the longest running conflict in the Americas.

Comments

About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: