President Xi Jinping vowed to combat “violence and terrorism” after three people were killed in an explosion and knife attack in the capital of northwestern China’s Xinjiang region hours after he visited the city, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency.
“Knife-wielding mobs” slashed travelers and set off explosives at the Urumqi’s south train station at about 7:10 p.m. local time yesterday, Xinhua said, citing the publicity department of the ruling Communist Party’s regional committee. The attack injured 79 people, four seriously, it reported.
“The battle to combat violence and terrorism will not allow even a moment of slackness, and decisive actions must be taken to resolutely suppress the terrorists’ rampant momentum,” Xi said after the attack, according to Xinhua. Xi was in Urumqi at 10 a.m. yesterday morning, wrapping up a four-day trip focused on security during which he said China would “strike first” against terrorists.
Officials blame ethnic Uighur separatists from the region for a spate of attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere, including a March 1 knife assault at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming that killed 29 people. That incident, days before the annual meeting of the legislature in Beijing, highlighted increasing tensions between the state and ethnic groups.
An investigation showed that one of the two suspects, both killed in the blast, was a 39-year-old man from Xayar county in southern Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, Xinhua said, citing police. The two were involved in religious extremism, Xinhua said.
“Over the last decade, the Chinese party state has intensified its hold over Uighurs,” said James Leibold, a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Politics and Asian Studies at La Trobe University in Australia. “There’s also been an intensification of the party’s involvement in daily life through things like Xi’s mass line campaign and encouraging more Mandarin-language education in Xinjiang.”
Xinjiang is home to more than 10 million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim Turkic people who have long resented living under Chinese rule. Ethnic riots in 2009 in Urumqi, the provincial capital, killed 197 people and injured more than 1,700, according to state-run media.
“China thinks they have a real problem on their hands and that’s evident with Xi’s trip to Xinjiang this week and his frequent mentioning of counter-terrorism efforts,” Leibold said.
Pictures that circulated briefly on the Internet that purported to be of the blast scene showed luggage and debris strewn across the road outside the station. Some luggage and damaged motorcycles were left on the scene, Xinhua said. Two calls to Ailati Aishan, secretary general of the regional government, went unanswered today, the Labor Day national holiday in China.
Xi arrived in Xinjiang on April 27, according to official media, visiting schools, factories and companies as well as inspecting local armed police and watching a military exercise during his four-day tour.
Long-term stability in Xinjiang is vital to China’s stability and national security, Xi said, according to a Xinhua report. Safeguarding the country’s unity and fighting separatism are of the utmost importance and in the basic interests of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, he said, according to Xinhua.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress is gathering information about the incident, according to spokesman Dilxat Raxit. Xi’s remarks during his trip to Xinjiang “were threats and provocations to the Uighur,” he said. “He was there openly inciting the armed forces to suppress the Uighur.”
In a now deleted posting, one county government in northern Xinjiang encouraged residents to report the people growing beards and “conducting illegal religious activities” to the police, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper. Rewards for information ranged between 50 yuan and 50,000 yuan, the newspaper said.
Over the next three years, the government plans to send 200,000 cadres to towns and villages throughout Xinjiang, most of them ethnically Han. Officials are posting their stories on a public account on Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat messaging service, with photos showing rural outreach and the buying of books for studying Uighur.
In November, the country’s security minister, Guo Shengkun, paid unannounced, after-dark visits to Beijing’s subway stations after an Oct. 28 attack near Tiananmen Square, where a sport-utility vehicle plowed into a crowd and burst into flames, killing the three occupants and two bystanders. Officials blamed Uighur separatists for the attack and called it an act of terrorism.