China blames Uighirs in Urumqi bombing

May 02, 2014 - 12:00:00 am
Paramilitary policeman gestures outside the South Railway Station, where three people were killed and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack on Wednesday, in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region yesterday.

URUMQI:  An attack at a train station in China’s western city of Urumqi was carried out by two religious extremists, who both died in the blast, the government said yesterday.

Three people were killed, including the assailants, and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack at the station on Wednesday, according to the government and state media, as President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a visit to the area.

The Xinjiang regional government said on its official news website that the two attackers who were killed had “long been influenced by extremist religious thought and participated in extremist religious activities.”

It identified one of them as Sedierding Shawuti, a 39-year-old man from Xayar county in Xinjiang’s Aksu region. The man is a member of the Muslim Uighur minority, judging by his name.

It did not identify the other person. The third person who was killed was a bystander, the government said.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said earlier on its microblog that “two mobsters set off bombs on their bodies and died.” But the newspaper did not call it a suicide bombing.

Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, has been beset by violence for years, blamed by the government on Islamist militants and separatists. Exiles and many rights groups say the real cause of the unrest is China’s heavy-handed policies, including curbs on Islam and the culture and language of the Uighur people.

The Wednesday blast was the first bomb attack in the capital of Xinjiang region in 17 years. It came soon after the arrival of a train from a mainly Han Chinese province, state media said. The bombing was possibly timed to coincide with a visit to the region with a large Muslim minority by President Xi, when security was likely to have been heavy.

Yesterday, dozens of police vans were parked around the station, while camouflaged police with assault rifles patrolled its entrance. Despite the security, the station was busy and appeared to be operating normally.

The government called the attackers “terrorists,” a term it uses to describe Islamist militants and separatists in Xinjiang who have waged a sometimes violent campaign for an independent East Turkestan state.

State media did not say if Xi, who was wrapping up his visit to the region, was anywhere near Urumqi at the time.

Pan Zhiping, a retired expert on Central Asia at Xinjiang’s Academy of Social Science, described the attack as well organised, saying it was timed to coincide with Xi’s visit.

“It is very clear that they are challenging the Chinese government,” he said. “There was a time last year when they were targeting the public security bureau, the police stations and the troops. Now it’s indiscriminate - terrorist activities are conducted in places where people gather the most.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. In remarks yesterday from Xi’s trip to Xinjiang, the president urged troops there to “strike crushing blows against violent terrorist forces and resolutely strike against terrorists who are swollen with arrogance. Resolutely crush the space for terrorist activities and contain the spreading trend of escalation,” Xi said.