March 6, 2014 12:21 pm

Xinjiang leader says online videos spark China separatist attacks

This picture taken on March 2, 2014 shows a police (R) stand guarding as Chinese mourners light candles at the scene of the terror attack at the main train station in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province. Separatists from China's northwest region of Xinjiang orchestrated the attack on a train station which left 29 dead, the Xinhua news agency reported Sunday, quoting the city government. It said evidence from the scene of the attack late Saturday in Kunming by a group of knife-wielding people pointed to separatists from Xinjiang, a vast region home to the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority©AFP

Kunming railway station

The top Chinese official in the frontier Xinjiang region blamed online videos and technology used to bypass China’s internet censorship – for a spate of recent violence, including the gang knife attacks at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming.

Eight attackers armed with knives stormed the Kunming railway station on Sunday, killing 29 people and wounding dozens in several minutes of violence. Four were shot dead by a paramilitary sharpshooter, and one wounded and captured alive.

The other three attackers were apprehended on Monday in a district close to the border with Vietnam. All appear to be Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, Muslim people native to Xinjiang.

China has blamed the attack on “terrorists”, and officials have vowed to crack down on organised separatists. Official media have so far released only one morsel of information – the name of the leader of the group, Abdurehim Kurban.

Eighteen people have been shot by security forces or died in explosions in two separate attacks this year in Xinjiang. The motives and circumstances of the attacks have not been independently verified.

Xinjiang’s most powerful official, Communist party chief Zhang Chunxian, blamed the violence on “the fast spread of informatisation. By that I mean, 90 per cent of terrorism in Xinjiang comes from jumping the wall. Violence and terrorism keep happening due to the videos on the internet.”

The term “jumping the wall” is Chinese slang for using a VPN or other method to penetrate the Great Firewall, the system of barriers built up to deny access to websites hosting information deemed pornographic or harmful to Communist party rule.

VPNs are used in China to access even mundane sites, including Gmail and most international social networking services. An arms race of sorts has developed between the censors and those trying to evade them. Last week, Astrill, one of the most popular VPN services, was inaccessible for more than a day from China.

All internet access was cut off for 10 months in Xinjiang after ethnic riots in July 2009, in which almost 200 people, mostly Han Chinese migrants, were killed by rioting Uighurs. Han Chinese attacked Uighur neighbourhoods two days later.

Mr Zhang restored internet access when he moved to Xinjiang in 2010.

In an open session of the National People’s Congress, dominated by discussion of Xinjiang’s economic development plans, Mr Zhang did not offer new information about the attackers’ identities, origins or motives. He blamed “extremism” and linked the Kunming attacks to the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, as well as to attacks by Chechen separatists in Russia and the July 2009 riots in Urumqi.

“Terrorism is like a tumour naturally born out of society. It’s only because of our current policies that we are able to keep terrorism to a minimum . . . It doesn’t matter if you crack down hard or crack down lightly, it’s bound to happen,” he told reporters, in answer to a question on whether Chinese security policies were responsible for simmering unrest in the region. He then vowed to “crush terrorists’ morale with the force of thunder”.

Additional reporting by Wan Li

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