NEW YORK: China pointed a finger at Pakistan, one of its closest foreign partners, as it blamed one of two deadly weekend attacks in the northwestern Xinjiang region on Muslim extremists trained across the Pakistani border.
Police also “executed on the spot” two more suspected attackers in the city of Kashgar, according to a local government statement, while paramilitary police with shotguns and automatic weapons patrolled thestreets of the city of Kashgar to prevent further unrest as local authorities said 20 people were killed in the attacks by knife-wielding members of the Uighur ethnic minority on Saturday and Sunday in a second week of violence to rock Xinjiang, a report published in The Wall Street Journal said.
The city government hasn’t said whom it blames for Saturday’s attack, when it says that two Uighur men hijacked a truck near a popular night market, plowed into a crowd, then leapt out and stabbed eight people to death. The crowd killed one attacker.
But it said on Monday that an “initial probe” had shown that leaders of Sunday’s attack on a restaurant, in which 11 people died, had received explosives and firearms training in Pakistan-based camps of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, also known as ETIM.
China has long accused Uighur groups waging a sometimes violent campaign for independence of being part of ETIM, which it says has links to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations and has sent people to train and fight in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But China rarely points a finger so directly and publicly at Pakistan, suggesting to some analysts that it is either unhappy with Islamabad’s counter-terrorism efforts or anxious to portray the violence as emanating from abroad.
The allegation is all the more striking as Pakistan, facing a crisis in ties with the US since the killing of Osama bin Laden, has been working hard to portray China as its “all-weather friend” and an alternative source of civilian and military aid. Pakistani officials said in May that China had agreed to take over operation of the strategically positioned Pakistani port of Gwadar, and that Islamabad had asked Beijing to build a naval base there.
China’s accusation joins a similar chorus from two of Pakistan’s other neighbours, India and Afghanistan, which accuse it of failing to act against militant camps on its soil.
A spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry couldn’t be reached to comment on Monday on China’s allegation. But the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was confident that the local and central authorities in China would “succeed in frustrating evil designs of the terrorists, extremists and separatists, who constitute an evil force”. It also said that Pakistan would “continue to extend its full cooperation and support” to China against ETIM.
A senior security official also said that over the past few years, Pakistan had handed over to Chinese authorities many militant leaders who were operating from Pakistan.
The Kashgar government said its information was based on a confession by a captured suspect. The government also said that four suspects had been shot dead at the scene of the attack on Sunday, and a fifth had died in the hospital from gunshot wounds. Authorities said on Monday police had killed two other suspects, both Uighurs, while trying to arrest them — and had offered 100,000 yuan, or about $15,540, for information leading to their arrests.
It said Sunday’s attackers had set off an explosion that triggered a fire in a restaurant, then started attacking people with knives, killing six civilians and injuring 15 others, including three police officers. The 12 civilians wounded were members of China’s majority Han ethnic group, it said. The government had earlier said that three people were killed on Sunday.
Kashgar authorities on Monday said police had killed two other suspects, who they said fled the scene of Sunday’s attack, while trying to arrest them. Authorities identified the men as 29-year-old Memtieli Tiliwaldi and 34-year-old Turson Hasan-both Uighurs — and had offered 100,000 yuan, or about $15,540, for information leading to their arrests.
The two men’s mugshots were plastered around Kashgar on Monday, as hundreds of armed police manned road blocks and patrolled the city on foot, while black-uniformed counter-terrorist SWAT teams cordoned off the sites of the two attacks.
The normally bustling city streets were eerily quiet as many ethnic Han Chinese settlers, who appear to have been the targets of the attacks, stayed home, according to several Uighur and Han Chinese residents. Most Uighurs interviewed rejected the official account of the attacks, saying they were the result of long-running tensions between the Uighurs and the growing numbers of Han Chinese settlers. “You shouldn’t go out at night for the moment — there could be more problems,” said one 34-year-old Uighur mechanic who asked not to be identified by name. “They say the people came from Pakistan. They say they were international terrorists, but that’s not true. They were local people angry with the government and with the Han Chinese.”
Some Uighurs said they were concerned about revenge attacks by Han Chinese, as happened in 2009 when almost 200 people were killed in interethnic riots in the regional capital, Urumqi. Most Han Chinese residents interviewed said they believed they were the targets of the weekend attacks, and that there could be more in the near future.
One 55-year-old Han Chinese woman, who runs a restaurant near the one attacked on Sunday, said she had seen the police pursuing the suspects afterward. “There was a lot of blood on the street; we were really scared,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her surname, Jin.
“We were informed this morning by the local government to close our doors for three days. Now we just stay at home, no one dares to go out. People cannot buy anything, even vegetables, as there aren’t any vendors on the street.”
The latest attacks came just under two weeks after police shot dead 14 Uighur rioters in the Xinjiang city of Hotan after they attacked a police station, setting fire to it and killing two police officers and two civilians, according to state media.
It also comes as party leaders grapple with resurgent ethnic unrest in recent months in Inner Mongolia, which lies to the east of Xinjiang, and continuing tensions in Tibet, just south of Xinjiang.
Zhang Chunxian, the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang, held an emergency meeting in Urumqi after the attacks and ordered a crackdown on religious extremism and “illegal religious activities,” according to Xinhua.
The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress said the recent violence was due to China’s repressive policies in the region, and warned of an even more severe crackdown in the aftermath of the recent attacks.