URUMQI, CHINA – Authorities on Saturday announced the first arrest in a bombing that killed at least 43 people in China’s Muslim northwest and said they are launching a yearlong antiterrorism crackdown.
Police announced names of five people blamed for Thursday’s attack in a vegetable market in the city of Urumqi, and accused them of forming a “terrorist gang” at the end of 2013, Xinhua News Agency said. Four of the suspects were killed and the fifth was captured Thursday night in an area about 250 km south of Urumqi, Xinhua said.
The group “took part in illegal religious activities, watched and listened to terrorist violence video and audio materials,” according to the news agency.
It said an antiterrorism campaign with Xinjiang “as the major battlefield” started Friday. Authorities will target religious extremist groups, gun and “explosive manufacturing dens and terrorist training camps.”
“Terrorists and extremists will be hunted down and punished,” Xinhua said.
The assailants tossed explosives from two SUVs as they sped through a packed vegetable market, mowing through customers and wares. Mrs. Li was working the public scale to weigh produce when one of the cars knocked her off her feet.
“It was so fast, it was like a plane flying,” Li, 70, said Friday at a hospital where she was being treated for a broken hip.
The assailants set off more fiery blasts, and altogether 43 people were killed and more than 90 wounded in Thursday’s attack, the latest — and bloodiest — violence in China’s far northwestern Xinjiang region in recent months.
A day after the attack in Urumqi, survivors told of their terror and said they no longer feel insulated from a long-simmering insurgency against Chinese rule, which has struck their city twice in recent weeks.
Mrs. Li’s daughter said the danger of violence is now a much greater factor in the daily lives of Xinjiang’s ethnic Chinese population. “The violence used to be distant, but now I have my mother lying in the bed suffering. The danger is right here with us and we dare not go out,” said the daughter, who declined to give her name.
Also Saturday, the city government in the capital, Beijing, announced it is tightening security on subways.
A measure under which passengers at stations in central Beijing are required to undergo security checks will be extended to three additional stations, the city government said. Passengers at all stations already are required to submit handbags and parcels for X-ray examination under measures imposed ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Chinese authorities have blamed most recent attacks on radical separatists from the country’s Muslim Uighur minority. Xinjiang is home to the native Turkic-speaking Uighurs but has seen large inflows from China’s ethnic Han majority in recent decades.
Uighur activists contend that restrictive and discriminatory policies favoring the Chinese migrants are fueling the bloodshed. The knowledge that Muslims elsewhere are rising up against their governments also seems to be contributing to the increased militancy.
Recent attacks show an audaciousness and deliberateness that wasn’t present before. Attackers increasingly target civilians rather than police and government targets.