Around a dozen men drove up in a truck and detonated explosives, says government

At least 13 people were killed in fresh violence to hit China’s Xinjiang region on Saturday morning, in what officials described as a brazen attack on a police station in the troubled Muslim-majority western frontier.

The government said around a dozen men drove a truck into the local public security bureau, or police office, and detonated explosives, in Yecheng, a town north of the old Silk Road city of Kashgar near the western border.

Authorities said 13 “mobsters” were killed and three policemen injured in the attack. It was unclear if others had been detained over the violence.

Yecheng was the site of a similar attack in 2012, when police said a group of nine men had attacked passersby on a pedestrian street with knives, killing at least 15 people.

That attack was blamed by the government on an Islamist extremist group.

Saturday’s attack follows a series of incidents that have rocked Xinjiang in recent months, marking a significant escalation in violence in the unrest-hit western region.

The government has said that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a terror group pushing for independence in Xinjiang, has been behind some of the attacks, including a knife and bomb attack on the railway station in Urumqi, the regional capital, in April that left at least three people killed and injured 79.

The violence has also, for the first time, spread beyond Xinjiang. In March, at least 29 people were killed and more than a 100 injured as a group of apparently trained attackers, armed with long knives, assaulted people at a railway station in Kunming, in southwestern Yunnan province.

The attacks have prompted a “strike hard” campaign by the government, which has pledged a year-long drive to root out extremist groups.

Earlier this week, 13 people were executed for “participating” in terror groups. Last month, 55 people were jailed in a rare mass trial, held in front of 7,000 people at a sports stadium, over terror charges. Xinjiang has also seen intermittent ethnic violence between local Uighur Muslims and the increasing number of majority Han Chinese migrants, most notably in 2009 when at least 197 people were killed and more than a 1,000 injured in riots in Urumqi.

The increased security deployments and tightening in Xinjiang has prompted concerns from overseas Uighur groups, particularly over the lack of transparency in many of the trials.

The government has also moved to detain a prominent Beijing-based Uighur scholar, Ilham Tohti, who was taken from his home in January and has not been heard from since. His lawyers have expressed fears that Mr. Tohti may have been put on trial in secret, without due process.

Mr. Tohti, who taught at the Minzu University, or University for Minorities, in Beijing, had become a prominent figure in the Uighur community.

His writings often focussed on Uighur-Han tensions, arguing that State policies had led to increasing disparities between the two groups and fanned ethnic tensions.

He also expressed fears that the continuing security crackdown, along with religious restrictions such as the recent “anti-veil” campaigns, would further alienate Uighurs and lead to fresh unrest.

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