Members of a terrorist group believed to be hiding out in Pakistan or Afghanistan were behind last month’s attack on a railway station in western China that left three people dead and dozens injured, Chinese authorities said on Sunday.

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a banned separatist group known to have its top members operating out of cells in Pakistan, had planned the April 30 attack on the railway station in Urumqi, the provincial capital of its western Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, officials said. The ETIM is pushing for independence for Xinjiang’s native Uighur ethnic group.

Xinjiang provincial authorities said on Sunday the attack last month had been organised by ETIM member Ismail Yusup from “outside China”, without specifying in which country he was operating out of.

The government said he had, on April 22, ordered “10 partners” in Xinjiang to set off explosives and attack people with knives at Urumqi railway station.

Defying added security

The attack rattled Chinese authorities, taking place on a day when Chinese President Xi Jinping was concluding a visit to Urumqi and Xinjiang, defying the added security measures in place.

Two Uighur members of the group, Saderdin Sawut and Memetabudula Ete, were killed in the attack — with some reports suggesting they had set off suicide bombs — while eight others were apprehended by police.

The government said investigations had shown that the members of the gang had “started to preach Islamic extremism in 2005”. Mr. Yusup, the head of the group, had “fled abroad” after being put on a wanted list for making explosives.

Chinese authorities were searching for him “in cooperation with” Interpol, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Pakistan link

Many Chinese officials believe ETIM leaders are hiding out in Pakistan, in areas bordering Afghanistan. Xinjiang officials have previously blamed a number of attacks in the cities of Kashgar and Hotan, which are close to the border with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), on groups with “a thousand links” to Pakistan.

Beijing has, however, been careful to refrain from publicly voicing its displeasure with Pakistan considering their close “all-weather” strategic ties.

Xinjiang has also recently seen intermittent ethnic clashes between Uighurs and the increasing number of majority Han Chinese migrants in the region, most notably in 2009 when riots left at least 197 people killed and more than a thousand injured in Urumqi.

‘Attacks were organised by East Turkistan Islamic Movement member Ismail Yusup’