‘Mobsters’ were planning terror attack, say state media

At least 21 people have been killed in violence in China’s far western Xinjiang region in Kashgar, a prefecture which borders Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and has been the site of intermittent bomb attacks and ethnic unrest.

Fifteen people, including police officers and community workers, were killed in violence on Tuesday afternoon, State media reported. Six others, described by the authorities as “mobsters” who were planning a terror attack, had been shot dead by police, while eight suspects had been arrested.

The attacks took place in the Bachu county of Kashgar, a county in the far-western “autonomous region” which is predominantly inhabited by Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic Turkic group and one of China’s 55 minorities.

State media said the violence was triggered by community workers discovering “suspicious” persons armed with knives. After they reported the group to police, they were taken hostage.

The workers and 12 police officers were killed in ensuing violence. State media said “six mobsters were shot to death during the fighting and eight were captured after local police managed to control the situation”.

Among the 15 killed were 10 Uighurs, three Han Chinese – China’s majority ethnic group – and two ethnic Mongolians, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

State media reports said “preliminary investigations” suggested the gang was “planning to launch terrorist activities”.

China has in the past blamed Uighur groups in Xinjiang, some with ties to groups based in Pakistan, for carrying out violent attacks in Kashgar and Hotan, southern cities which are close to the border with PoK.

Asked if any foreign forces were involved, Ms. Hua told a regular press briefing that investigations were on-going.

“This case is a case of violence and terrorism, and further developments should be verified,” she said. “Currently the situation in Xinjiang is mainly stable, but some people are trying to make troubles to interrupt the peace and tranquillity of Xinjiang. Their schemes are doomed to failure.”

Many Uighur groups, however, say much of the violence in Xinjiang is rooted in ethnic tensions and disparities between Uighurs and the increasing number of majority Han Chinese migrants. Many Uighur scholars and activists have also accused the government of inflating the terrorism threat to clamp down on religious activities and dissent.

Countering such criticism, Ms. Hua said “cracking down on crimes and protecting safety of people and property is the sacred duty of the judicial authorities”.

Last month, courts in Xinjiang convicted 20 people alleged to have “promoted terrorism and separatism” through the Internet, issuing sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment. The cases were criticised by rights groups, who pointed to a lack of transparency in the proceedings. Rights groups have also noted that criticism aimed at government policies has, in the past, been labelled as “splittism” in Xinjiang and punished with heavy sentences.

Some of those convicted were also charged with making illegal cross-border journeys, with officials and analysts suggesting they might have had links to overseas groups in Pakistan or Uzbekistan.

Pan Zhiping, a scholar with the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Xinjang University who has written extensively on the terrorism problem in Xinjiang, told The Hindu in a recent telephone interview that cross-border movements to Pakistan were “a big problem”.

“The Pakistani government cannot control the problem areas,” Mr. Pan said, speaking from Urumqi, the regional capital.

He, however, added that most of the recent problems in places like Kashgar and Hotan were linked to local groups, saying it was now mainly “a domestic problem”.

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