Attackers wielding knives killed 13 people in China’s Xinjiang region before police shot seven of them dead, the government said, in the latest violence to strike the ethnically divided northwestern area.
The Xinjiang government said the killings on Tuesday night occurred on a busy pedestrian street in Yecheng County near Kashgar, a city in the south of Xinjiang that has been beset by tension between the mainly Muslim Uighur population and Han Chinese.
“Nine violent terrorists suddenly surged into the crowd and stabbed to death innocent people with their knives, causing 13 innocent people to die and injuring many,” it said in a statement on its official news portal.
“Police rushed to the scene, handled the situation with resolution and shot dead seven violent terrorists, capturing two,” it added.
The regional government did not identify any of the attackers or give their ethnicity. Neither did it identify the ethnicity of the victims.
China has blamed earlier incidents of violence on religious hardliners who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan. Some Chinese officials have also blamed attacks on Muslim militants trained in Pakistan.
However, exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say China overstates the threat posed by militants in Xinjiang, which sits astride south and central Asia.
“China’s demonstrated lack of transparency when it comes to unrest in East Turkestan necessitates deep speculation of official Chinese claims,” Uyghur American Association president Alim Seytoff said in an e-mailed statement.
“In the absence of compelling evidence, international observers should be extremely careful when hearing Chinese claims about ‘rioters’ and ‘terrorists,’” Seytoff said.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said the Yecheng incident should not be overblown.
“The overall situation in Xinjiang is good,” Hong told a daily news briefing. “We firmly oppose a small group of violent terrorists and separatists destroying this kind of peaceful development and the calm ... conditions.”
Security expert Li Wei was quoted as saying in a separate Xinjiang government statement that such incidents did not mean China was in danger of losing control.
“There are still some unfavorable facts affecting Xinjiang’s stability which have not been eliminated, so occasional incidents are hard to avoid,” Li said. “Xinjiang’s stability is firm.”
Uighurs account for just over 40 percent of the region’s 21 million people, but they are the majority in Kashgar and other parts of the south and many chafe at government controls on their culture and religion.
The Global Times, a tabloid published by the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, cited experts as saying that Yecheng was on the front line of China’s campaign against militancy because of its location.
“Over recent years it has had rather a large number of bad incidents and is an important area for maintaining stability in Xinjiang,” Tuerwenjiang Tuerxun of the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences said in a report on the paper’s Web site.
“It is close to the border, has been quite shut-off and remote for a long time, and is also quite a sensitive place,” he added.