The military chief of China’s western Xinjiang region has been removed from the top Party body overseeing the region, State media reported on Sunday, less than a week after a group from Xinjiang was alleged to have carried out a terror attack in Tiananmen Square that left five people killed and 40 injured.

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Peng Yong was no longer serving on the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Standing Committee in Xinjiang – the top ruling party agency for the region – reported the Xinjiang Daily, which is the official mouthpiece of the Xinjiang Party committee, in a brief front page statement. The newspaper did not mention the reason for the removal of General Peng, who was in November appointed to the CPC’s 370-member Central Committee, following the leadership change.

Top officials in Xinjiang have, in the past, been removed from their positions after high-profile incidents. In September 2009, the Urumqi Party Secretary, Li Zhi, was sacked following the ethnic riots in July of that year, which left at least 197 people killed.

His sacking was followed by the unexpected removal in 2010 of the powerful Party chief in Xinjiang, Wang Lequan, who was known for his hard-line policies and directed the region’s development for more than a decade. His successor, the current Party secretary Zhang Chunxian, has sought to portray a less tough approach by emphasising economic development over security issues, although he has persisted with many of Mr. Wang’s security policies.

On Sunday, the CPC Party Chief in Beijing, Guo Jinlong, called on police and security forces to “look for vulnerable links” following the October 28 incident, as he conducted a two-day “inspection tour” in the capital.

A jeep carrying three Uighurs – the ethnic Turkic minority native to Xinjiang – managed to evade the security barriers in place around the famous square as it drove into a crowd at the Tiananmen gate and burst into flames. Two tourists were killed and 40 others were injured. The car’s three passengers – the driver, Usmen Hasan, his wife and his mother – also died.

Five suspects – all from Xinjiang – were detained last week in connection with the incident, police authorities said, adding that their investigations found that the group had put together funds of 40,000 Yuan (Rs. 4 lakh) as well as 400 litres of petrol – used to set the jeep on fire – for what they described as “a violent terrorist attack”.

Mr. Guo said police needed to “enhance their capacity to collect intelligence” and “take precautions against terrorist attacks”. He also called for improving the management of “rented housing” and “floating population” in the capital, with the group behind the attack all believed to have travelled to the capital from Xinjiang only weeks before the incident.

‘Bound to happen’

Pan Zhiping, a terrorism expert in Xinjiang University and a long-time President of the region, said in an interview that it was only a matter of time before groups planned attacks in the capital to generate more attention.

“This kind of incident will happen sooner or later,” he told The Hindu, drawing a comparision with “the Chechen groups targeting Moscow or Al-Qaeda, who have the same patterns”. “If [incidents] happens in a remote small village in Xinjiang, few people will notice them,” he said.

Exiled Uighur groups have questioned the government’s version of events, and suggested that disgruntled citizens – rather than an organised grouping such as the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which was blamed by officials for the attack – may have been behind the attack. The overseas-based World Uyghur Congress said it expected the authorities to put in place “repressive” security measures in Xinjiang in coming weeks.

Mr. Pan, however, rejected the suggestion that local grievances may have led to the attack. “It was definitely an organised activity,” he said. “In fact,” he added, “it is Xinjiang’s economy that suffers the most from these terrorist acts.”

(Sisi Tang contributed to reporting.)

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