Witnesses to chilling violence at a Chinese railway station placed under heavy security yesterday recalled moments of fear and chaos after at least 29 people were killed in what authorities called a “terrorist attack” by Xinjiang militants.
Officials said a group of knife-wielding “terrorists” from the restive Xinjiang region launched a premeditated attack at Kunming Railway Station in China’s southwest on Saturday night. More than 130 people were wounded.
Armed riot police stood guard as people streamed into the railway station yesterday only hours after the attack, one of the worst of its kind in China in recent memory.
Standing near shops about 50m from the site, a parking attendant surnamed Chen said he could not believe what was happening when he saw the attackers.
“I walked out and I saw a person with a knife this big,” Chen said, spreading his arms wide. “Then I saw five or six of them. They all had knives and they were stabbing people madly over by the first and second ticket offices.”
Police shot four of the attackers dead and captured one, Xinhua news agency reported. About five others were on the run, it said.
Xinhua quoted the Kunming City Government as saying evidence at the crime scene showed the attack was carried out by Xinjiang separatist forces.
The attack comes at a sensitive time as China gears up for the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, which opens in Beijing on Wednesday and is normally accompanied by a tightening of security across the country.
Word of the violence spread quickly, with graphic pictures that showed bodies covered in blood posted to Sina Weibo — posts that were later deleted by government censors.
State television showed police wrapping a long, sword-like knife in a plastic bag.
Shop and restaurant workers said hundreds of people had fled into their stores seeking refuge.
“Last night, everyone ran over into my supermarket. The supermarket was full of people, including two passengers who had been stabbed,” Ren Guangqin said. “I was terrified. They were killing people. How could I not be scared?”
A 20-year-old university student, Wu Yuheng, said the attackers had tried to target people’s heads. One had swiped his long knife and just nicked him on the scalp.
“I was terrified ... they attacked us like crazy swordsmen, and mostly they went for the head and the shoulders, those parts of the body to kill,” he said.
“This attack has caused great harm to innocent people, but I think before we are sure about the identity of the attackers, we shouldn’t make wild guesses on who to blame,” he added.
Energy-rich Xinjiang, home to Muslim Uighurs, many of whom chafe at Chinese restrictions on their culture and religion, borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and former Soviet Central Asia.
Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is hundreds of kilometers from Xinjiang and has little connection to the violence there that has killed more than 100 people in the past year.
“China must handle the incident transparently and not let it become a new political excuse to oppress Uighurs,” World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an e-mailed statement.
“Serious discrimination and oppressive policies lead to psychological trauma that could provoke victims to adopt extreme measures,” he said, adding that there were “no reasonable grounds” for the attack.