URUMQI – Heavy security was visible on the streets of Urumqi in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Autonomous Region on Thursday after two SUVs ploughed through shoppers while setting off explosives, killing 31 people and injuring more than 90.
The attack in the city of Urumqi was the bloodiest in a series of violent incidents over recent months that Chinese authorities have blamed on radical separatists from the country’s Muslim Uighur minority.
Some of the shops had closed following the attack, but by the afternoon, traffic had resumed and there were no signs of the earlier explosion except for the heavy security presence.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack.
Recent violence has been blamed on extremists seeking to overthrow Chinese rule in the region, which is home to the native Turkic-speaking Uighurs but has seen large inflows from China’s ethnic Han majority in recent decades.
Tensions between Chinese and ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang have been simmering for years, but recent attacks – while still relatively crude – show an audaciousness and deliberateness that wasn’t present before.
They are also increasingly going after civilians, rather than the police and government targets of past years.
China called the attack in the regional capital of Urumqi a “serious violent terrorist incident” and domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu 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 the ethnic Muslim Uighurs.
The 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.
At the rainsoaked scene of the attack late in the evening, surrounded by police vans, elite police units guarded a cordoned-off candlelight display for victims.
Police kept away onlookers trying to take photographs and blocked foreign reporters from approaching the area.
At a local hospital, Turnisa Xadawut, 63, told how she lost three toes of her right foot in the explosion. Her five-months pregnant daughter, who accompanied her to the market, was burned on her face and feet, but luckily the baby appears to have been unharmed.
Google Earth shows the location of the attack
Explosions in China\'s Xinjiang RegionGoogle Earth shows the location of the attack.
The Xinjiang Regional People’s Hospital received 15 patients from the scene, two of whom were seriously injured. The youngest is 51 years old and the rest are all above 65, said Lei Wei, deputy head of the hospital’s medical administration department.
“The injured include people from both Han and Uygur ethnic groups,” said Liu Hongxia, head of the medical administration department of the regional traditional Chinese medicine hospital.
“Most of them are elderly people,” said she in tears. “I feel sad seeing them suffer.”
A jogger told how he saw flags on the vehicles, with a white background and black characters which “seemed like Uygur writing”.
The cars came to a halt at the end of the street and the bombs were set off. An aquatic products shop near the first blast had all its windows broken.
The boss of the shop said the first car stopped because pedestrians it had felled and vendors’ carts blocked its way. “Two minutes later, the car exploded,” the boss said.
A supermarket manager said that a lot of people had rushed to her store to hide. “People were screaming and crying. There was blood on some of them. It was horrible,” she said.
A business owner in the market told Xinhua he heard a dozen big bangs.
Most shops along Gongyuanbei Street remain closed and few pedestrians were seen during the day. Police continue to search the area.
In response to the attack, Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to severely punish the terrorists and spare no effort in maintaining stability.
He ordered police to step up patrols and control over possible targets to prevent ripple effects, to strike hard against violence and terrorists, and to safeguard social stability. The President also asked local authorities offer his condolences to the families of victims.
Premier Li Keqiang, meanwhile, called on authorities everywhere to step up safety measures and eliminate weak points in public security to protect people’s lives and property.
Statement by Press Secretary Jay Carney on Terrorist Attack in China
The United States condemns the horrific terrorist attack in Urumqi, China today. We are aware of reports that the attack resulted in the death of 31 citizens and the injury of 90 more. This is a despicable and outrageous act of violence against innocent civilians, and the United States resolutely opposes all forms of terrorism. We offer our condolences and sympathies to the victims, their families, and all those affected by this attack.
Report complied using information from Reuters, Xinhua and The Associated Press.
China market attack the latest in wave of violence
BEIJING (AP) — A timeline of recent violent incidents linked to tensions in China’s far northwestern region of Xinjiang between its native Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group and China’s majority Han. China tightly controls information about such incidents, and it’s not always clear what transpired or the exact number of victims and attackers killed.
Aug. 4, 2008: Two Uighur men steal a dump truck and drive it into a group of policemen in the far western city of Kashgar, killing 16 people. The attack comes just days ahead of the opening of the Beijing Olympics, fulfilling expectations that extremists would attempt to disrupt the games.
July 5-7, 2009: Violence breaks out between police and protesting Uighurs in central Urumqi, then spreads through much of the city. A total of 197 people are killed, most of them Han Chinese, in the worst bloodshed in Xinjiang in decades.
July 18, 2011: A group of young Uighur men attack government offices and a police station outside the city of Hotan in southern Xinjiang, killing two officers and two hostages. Of the 18 attackers, 14 are shot dead.
April 24, 2013: Gang members stab and burn neighborhood security patrol officers and then police in a village outside Kashgar, killing 21 officers and local government officials.
June 26, 2013: Assailants raid police and government offices in the eastern Xinjiang town of Lukqun, killing 24 officers and civilians. Police say the attackers belonged to a 17-member extremist Islamic cell.
Oct. 28, 2013: A jeep carrying a Uighur man, his wife and her mother jumps a curb in downtown Beijing and plows through tourists before coming to a stop in front of Tiananmen Gate and exploding into flames. Five people are killed, including those in the vehicle and two tourists, in the first such incident known to have taken place in the capital.
March 1, 2014: Five knife-wielding men and women slash at people at the railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming in Yunnan province, killing 29. The attack is the biggest ever outside Xinjiang, and results in stepped-up security nationwide.
April 30, 2014: Two suspected suicide bombers detonate their explosives at the exit to the Urumqi train station, killing themselves and one other person. Another eight people attack passengers with knives, leaving a total of 79 injured.
May 22, 2014: Two trucks plow through crowds at an open air market in Urumqi as explosives are tossed from their windows. Thirty-one people are killed and 94 injured, the largest number of victims in a single incident of violence involving Xinjiang tensions in recent history.