Tuesday 20 February 2018

Extremists 'bombed China station'

Chinese paramilitary police march past the site of a blast outside the Urumqi South Railway Station in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (AP)
Chinese paramilitary police march past the site of a blast outside the Urumqi South Railway Station in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (AP)
Xi Jinping demanded "decisive actions" against terrorism following the railway station attack

Two religious extremists carried out a terror attack at a train station in China by detonating explosives in an apparent suicide bombing, authorities have said.

The strike late last night in Urumqi, in the far-western Xinjiang region, also killed one other person and wounded 79.

It was the third high-profile attack in seven months blamed on Xinjiang extremists that targeted civilians. These attacks, two of them outside the region, have marked a departure from a previous pattern of primarily targeting local authorities in a long-simmering insurgency.

The official website for Xinjiang's regional government said police had identified two suspects with a history of religious extremism, including a 39-year-old man from southern Xinjiang.

It did not explicitly say the attack in the regional capital was a suicide bombing, but said the two men detonated explosives at a train station exit and both died on the spot.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has demanded "decisive" action against terrorism after the attacks, near an exit of the South Station.

The attack came as Mr Xi was wrapping up a tour of the far-western region in which he visited local officials and police to stress the government's security efforts in the area, which has experienced rising violence blamed on radical Islamists and separatists.

A 57-year-old woman being treated at the Xinjiang Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital said she had just got off a train and was walking out to meet her son when the blast went off.

"I saw I had shreds of flesh and blood in my hair and on my clothes. It was terrifying," said the woman, who would only give her surname, Peng.

Another survivor, a man who also gave only his surname, Liu, said the station exit had been crowded with people when the blast went off.

"After the blast, there was chaos. Everyone was panicking," he said. Police and firefighters quickly arrived and Mr Liu said the injured were taken to hospitals in ambulances and commandeered taxis.

Earlier reports in state media quoted witnesses as saying the attack also involved stabbings by a group of attackers, but the regional government's brief dispatch - saying police had solved the crime - made no mention of knives.

Tensions between Chinese and ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang have been simmering for years, particularly since riots in 2009 in Urumqi left nearly 200 people dead, according to official figures. Beijing blames the violence on overseas-based instigators, but has offered little evidence.

It is unclear whether Xi was still in the region at the time of the attack. Information about events in the area is tightly controlled and it can be difficult to verify details.

The Chinese president said in his comments after the attack that authorities were in a long-term battle against Xinjiang separatists. Recent attacks blamed on separatists have appeared increasingly organised and more likely to target civilians as well as authorities.

"The battle to combat violence and terrorism will not allow even a moment of slackness, and decisive actions must be taken to resolutely suppress the terrorists' rampant momentum," Mr Xi said.

Train services were suspended for about two hours, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said security was tightened at all transport hubs in the city, which has a mainly Han Chinese population who are distinct from Xinjiang's native Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group.

Witnesses said the area outside the train station was cordoned off overnight. But by afternoon today, a public holiday, the train station bustled with hundreds of travellers.

Paramilitary police and riot police patrolled and guarded positions, while shopkeepers repaired minor damage to signs and lights on shopfronts. One refused to let people bring their bags into his store and held a short, thick wooden pole in front of him.

Photos circulating briefly on Chinese social media showed scattered luggage near the station's exit and a heavy presence of armed men.

Rian Thum, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who specialises in Uighur history and issues, said the use of explosives to target civilians "would mark an alarming deviation from previous patterns of Uighur political violence".

"Most violent resistance had previously been directed at police officers, soldiers, and officials, often using knives and farm tools. The attack at the Urumchi train station, if it was carried out by Uighurs, suggests an emerging pattern of more civilian targets and violence on a larger scale," he said.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress based in Germany said: "The Urumqi explosion again proves that forceful repression is not a solution to the problem."

Press Association

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