Explosives hurled from two vehicles which ploughed into an open market in China’s troubled Xinjiang Province killed 31 people yesterday, state media reported, in the deadliest act of violence in the region in years.
China called the attack in the provincial capital of Urumqi a “serious violent terrorist incident” and Chinese Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu (孟建柱) vowed to strengthen a crackdown on the “arrogance of terrorists.”
Ninety-four people were wounded.
China has blamed a series of knife and bomb attacks in recent months on separatist militants from Xinjiang, the traditional home of ethnic Muslim Uighurs.
The two cross-country vehicles rammed into shoppers in an open market, Xinhua news agency reported, citing witness reports. Explosives were flung out of the windows and one of the vehicles exploded.
One witness said he saw the aftermath of the blasts on his way to work.
“The air was full of the smell of gunpowder and the sound of sobbing,” he said. “There were simply too many [casualties], old folks who were at the morning market.”
A business owner told Xinhua he had heard a dozen loud explosions at the market near Renmin Park in downtown Urumqi.
Xinjiang has been plagued by violence for years, but rights activists and exile groups say the government’s own heavy-handed policies in the region have sowed the seeds of unrest.
Photographs posted on social media, purportedly of the blast, showed a column of smoke and chaos at the market, with bloodied people lying on the tree-lined road near small stands selling fruit, vegetables and eggs.
Other photographs showed riot police on the scene and bodies lying amid flames. Produce and debris were scattered across the street.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said in an e-mail that while he was not sure who committed the attack, he believed Beijing’s policies in the region should be examined.
“The volatility of the situation and Beijing’s repressive policies in the area have a direct relationship to this,” Rexit said. “I urge Beijing not to use this incident as an excuse to expand repressive policies, and instead to adjust policies to ameliorate a deteriorating situation.”
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said the attack “should be condemned jointly by the Chinese people and the international community.”
“The Chinese government has the confidence and the ability to combat the terrorists,” Hong said at a daily news briefing. “These terrorists are swollen with arrogance. Their schemes will not succeed.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) said police would “step up patrols and security controls over possible terrorist targets and prevent ripple effects,” Xinhua reported.
Xi vowed to “severely punish terrorists.”
The attack was the deadliest in a recent series targeting crowded public places in China. In March, 29 people were stabbed to death at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming.
China has said Islamist militants from Xinjiang carried out the attacks.
However, exiles and rights groups say China’s repressive policies that have targeted religious freedoms and economic opportunities for Uighurs are the culprits when it comes to unrest.
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