Days after at least 35 people were reported killed in violence in the central Xinjiang county of Shanshan and after fresh reports of unrest in the remote southern town of Hotan, authorities moved to tighten security across the far-western frontier region.
Early on Wednesday morning, 24 people were killed by knife-wielding attackers in the central town of Lukqun in what authorities first described as a riot and later termed a terrorist attack targeting police stations and local government offices. At least 11 attackers were shot dead.
Another riot was reported to have occurred on Friday in Hotan, a remote town in southern Xinjiang, seen as the heartland of the native Uighur ethnic group.
State media reported “over 100 terrorists” attacked people with weapons after gathering at local religious venues. The Global Times said casualties were still being counted.
“The terrorists, riding on motorcycles, used knives as weapons and attacked a local police station in the city’s Moyu county,” the newspaper said citing witnesses. Following the violence, 200 people “attempted to incite trouble” at a shopping area in Hotan, it added.
While the government has blamed much of the recent violence in Xinjiang on terrorists, the region has also seen intermittent ethnic unrest between Uighurs and Han Chinese migrants, most notably in July 2009 when at least 200 people, mostly Han, were killed in violence in the regional capital Urumqi.
The government says extremist groups, such as the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement, are behind the unrest, with some Uighur groups also said to have ties to groups based in Pakistan.
Some Uighur scholars say some of the violence is also an outcome of ethnic tensions, rather than entirely caused by organised terrorism.
They have pointed to increased resentment towards migrants, high unemployment and anger at some religious restrictions, such as Ramadan bans on students and government servants and campaigns to ban headscarves in cities like Kashgar and Hotan.
Security is tightened across Xinjiang in the lead-up to the July anniversary every year, with the summer often seeing a spike in reports of violent incidents.
Hotan was also the site of violence in July 2011, when officials said “extremists” armed with knives attacked a government building and took two hostages. Fourteen attackers and four others were killed.