BEIJING – Eleven people were killed in an assault on a Chinese police station in the Xinjiang region, the local government said Sunday, the latest in a series of attacks pointing to growing unrest in the area.
Two auxiliary police officers and nine attackers were killed in the incident Saturday afternoon, the Xinjiang regional government said in a statement posted on its microblog.
It said the assailants used knives and axes in the attack in Bachu county’s Serikbuya township, near the historic city of Kashgar, adding that two police officers were injured in the clash. Calls to government and police offices in the region rang unanswered Sunday.
U.S.-government funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia and a Uighur activist said several of the young attackers were killed by a police special weapons and tactics team, despite appeals from residents who had gathered at the scene to take them alive.
“There were around 40 to 50 people gathered around the station. They shouted to the police not to shoot, capture them alive and try them,” the broadcaster quoted an eyewitness as saying. The eyewitness was not identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Sweden-based activist Dilxat Raxit said security forces have been increasingly opting to shoot and kill suspects at the scene rather than capturing them and putting them on trial.
“Before, they’d put them on trial. You could argue about the fairness of the trial, but at least they were alive. Now, they’re just killing them outright,” Raxit said by phone. He said the tougher policy appeared to be aimed at intimidating Uighurs and preventing suspects from giving testimony.
“Now all of Bachu county is under lockdown, and any incident is suppressed by force,” Raxit said.
Xinjiang has long been home to a simmering insurgency against Chinese rule led by radicals among the region’s native Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group. This year has been particularly bloody, with a number of deadly clashes in Xinjiang and one in the heart of Beijing in which three attackers drove a vehicle through crowds in front of historic Tiananmen Gate, killing themselves and two tourists.
Scores of attackers and government officials have been killed, although the total figure isn’t known because many incidents go unreported.
The authorities blame the violence on Uighur terrorists allied with al-Qaida. Activists say despair over economic and social discrimination and cultural and religious restrictions are fueling anger among Uighurs.
The government statement gave few details, but the official China Daily newspaper said the nine attackers were shot dead on the spot, and identified one of them by the Uighur name of Abula Ahat.
The newspaper said the police station was the same one that had been attacked in April in a clash that erupted after local police and community workers discovered suspicious behavior at a nearby home. That led to a gang of alleged extremists hacking and burning to death 15 members of the security services, while six of their own were shot dead.
Xinjiang is a sprawling region bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan and a number of unstable Central Asian states. It is home to about 9 million Uighurs, many of whom complain that they’ve been marginalized by policies favoring Han migrants.
Beijing says it treats all minorities fairly and spends billions of dollars on development and improving living standards in Xinjiang.