BEIJING, Aug. 2 (UPI) — The head of the regional Xinjiang communist party ordered a crackdown by police on suspicious activities including religious ceremonies after a weekend of deadly violence.
Kashgar, a city of 350,000 in the western part of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and close to the border with Tajikistan, was rocked by several explosions and the killing of bystanders by two men who hijacked a truck after killing its driver.
Zhang Chunxian, secretary of Xinjiang regional committee of the Communist Party of China, ordered the crackdown at an emergency meeting in the regional capital Urumqi following the attacks.
Zhang also ordered strengthened management of explosives, a report by the state-run news agency Xinhua said. He said the violent attacks would greatly damage the region’s stability.
“People in Xinjiang should stay vigilant and recognize that terrorist attackers are the common enemies of all ethnic groups,” Zhang said.
Trouble began Saturday with two explosions, one in a parked van and one in a food market.
Just before midnight, two men stabbed a truck driver and then drove the vehicle into a crowd. They also attacked bystanders with knives. Six people in the crowd were killed and 28 others were hurt, police said. At least one of the attackers was killed by the crowd.
Violence again erupted Sunday when four suspects were killed by police who continued to hunt for suspects.
Kashgar city officials blamed militants from Pakistan for the violence in the region, which is predominantly Muslim and, similar to Tibet, is politically sensitive for the central government. Beijing is constantly on its guard against separatist groups it claims foment disorder in hopes of establishing an independent East Turkestan.
Around 8 million Uighur live in Xinjiang and many say they are unhappy about the large influx of Han Chinese settlers, whom the Uighurs say increasingly marginalize their interests and culture.
The Xinhua report said Kashgar city officials blamed a group of religious extremists led by militants trained in overseas terrorist camps for bomb blasts on Sunday but not the bombs and violence Saturday.
The initial investigation determined the group’s leaders had learned how to make explosives and firearms in overseas camps of the militant group East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Pakistan before entering Xinjiang to organize attacks, the city government said in an online statement.
The police are offering a reward of nearly $15,400 for information that could lead to the arrests of suspects.
In mid July, an attack on a police station in Hotan in southern Xinjiang left 18 people dead. Chinese authorities blamed Uighur extremists and some of Uighur attackers who died had links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, media reported at the time.
Tensions in the region have remained high since nearly 200 people died in clashes that rocked Urumqi, the capital of the region. More than 1,700 people were injured in the July 2009 riots that stretched across several days.
Local government officials blamed the 2009 riots on unemployed Uighur migrants living in nearly 50 shantytowns across the city. Beijing also said the riots were planned abroad by the World Uighur Congress, which they say is a terrorist organization and whose president, Rebiya Kadeer, 63, who is also considered a terrorist by the Chinese.
The WUC was formed in April 2004 in Munich, Germany, as a collection of exiled Uighur groups including the Uighur American Association and the East Turkestan National Congress. Kadeer, a businesswoman and political activist, has been in exile in the United States since 2005 after 6 years imprisonment in China for allegedly leaking state secrets.
A statement on the organization’s Web site, attributed to Kadeer, said the WUC “unequivocally condemns Chinese government policies that have caused another outbreak of violence in East Turkestan.”
But without a substantial change to policies that discriminate against Uighurs economically, culturally and politically the prospect of stability in East Turkestan is remote, the statement said.
“I do not support violence,” she said. “I am saddened that Han Chinese and Uighurs have lost their lives. At the same time, I cannot blame the Uighurs who carry out such attacks for they have been pushed to despair by Chinese policies.”
ETIM is on the United Nations’ and the United States’ official list of terrorist organizations but there is dispute over how connected it is to al-Qaida. The Chinese government condemns it as being directly linked to al-Qaida as well as the WUC, the Center for Defense Information in Washington said.
“Although ETIM has traditionally focused on Chinese targets, it may have plans to also attack American interests,” the CDI wrote in late 2002. “In May 2002, two of its members were accused of planning to bomb the U.S. Embassy in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and were subsequently deported from Kyrgyzstan to China.”