Chinese security forces killed eight people who attacked a police station in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, local authorities said on Monday, in the fourth violent incident associated with the restive territory in two months.
According to a brief report posted on the Xinjiang government’s website, the “violent terrorist attack” took place at 6:30 on Monday morning. In addition to the eight people killed, who were allegedly armed with knives and explosive devices, another person was apprehended in the incident in Yarkand county near Kashgar.
Attacks on police posts have become common occurrences in Xinjiang, an oil and gas-rich “autonomous region” that is home to an active separatist movement supported by many Uighurs.
The Muslim Uighurs were for centuries the dominant ethnic group in the region, which enjoyed a brief period of independence in the 1940s, but many fear that they have been marginalised by an influx of Han Chinese settlers, especially over the past three decades.
Uighurs now account for only about 40 per cent of Xinjiang’s 22m people. But many communities in the territory’s south, where Monday’s attack occurred, remain overwhelmingly Uighur.
The Chinese government maintains that the separatists are engaged in a terrorism campaign and have close links to Al Qaeda organisations in neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan. Local authorities in Yarkand declined to comment on Monday’s unrest.
The World Uyghur Congress, an exile group based in Munich, could not be immediately reached for comment. The organisation has previously challenged Chinese government accounts of such incidents, saying they often involved police raids on peaceful gatherings or protests.
Jiang Zhaolong, a Beijing-based expert on the region, said practices associated stricter forms of Islam, such as the wearing of burqas, have been spreading in recent years. He added that this was particularly true in poorer areas near Kashgar, where remote Uighur communities had been left behind by the region’s rapid economic development.
A similar attack two weeks ago in Shufu county, also near Kashgar, claimed the lives of 16 people including two police officers. In November, 11 people including two auxiliary police officers were killed in Xinjiang’s Selibuya township. Since March, more than 100 people have reportedly been killed in such clashes
In a rare incident outside Xinjiang, in late October three Uighurs drove a car loaded with petrol into a crowd of people near Tiananmen gate in downtown Beijing.
The three assailants and two tourists died in the incident. Chinese police subsequently arrested five other Xinjiang residents allegedly involved in coordinating the attack.
The worst outbreak of intercommunal violence occurred in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, in the summer of 2009, claiming the lives of about 200 people.
On a tour of central Asia earlier this year, President Xi Jinping called for the creation of a “new silk road” between the region in China. Chinese energy companies have invested heavily in central Asian oil and gas fields, building pipelines through Xinjiang to feed soaring demand in eastern China.
Additional reporting by Wan Li
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