Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the brutal stabbing death of a police officer who had been promoted to lead a campaign aimed at combating terrorism in China’s restive Xinjiang region, police said Wednesday.
The four suspects, whose identities were not revealed, staged a motorcycle accident to lure Li Hongjiang out of his car before stabbing him nearly 40 times and dumping his body in a reservoir in Kashgar prefecture’s Peyziwat (in Chinese, Jiashi) county.
They have confessed to the murder, according to the police, who described the crime as an “organized act of terror” calculated to thwart a Xinjiang-wide anti-terror campaign.
Li, who had headed the traffic police in Kashgar prefecture, was recently appointed to lead a one-year “Strike Hard Campaign” in his Misha township where he was murdered on May 29, Misha police chief Ekber Alimjan told RFA’s Uyghur Service on Wednesday.
Beijing launched the campaign throughout Xinjiang following a May 22 bombing at a market in the regional capital Urumqi that killed 43 people, including the four attackers.
The campaign comes in the wake of increasing violence in the region, which is traditionally home to ethnic minority Uyghurs who complain they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
Alimjan said that Li’s body was found around 8:00 p.m. on May 29 in the Orpa Reservoir in Misha’s Towen Tarsha village, also known as No. 7 village, near where he had been driving his patrol vehicle alone three hours earlier.
“The four suspects were riding two motorcycles and passed Li suddenly, with one hitting the other,” Alimjan said, without providing the ethnicity of the men.
“The four began to argue and fight, and our boss Li stopped his car and tried to intervene to solve the dispute.”
Alimjan said that while Li—whose name suggests he is a majority Han Chinese—was documenting the identification of the four, they suddenly turned on him with knives.
“We found 39 stab wounds on his body and that they had thrown his body into the reservoir after taking his gun,” he said.
“He never had a chance to use his weapon [in the incident].”
Alimjan said that police were initially surprised that Li had been stabbed because he had a gun with him as he was returning to the township from Tagharchi village after completing his patrol.
He said the four suspects had confessed to the murder after being captured on July 1 in a “long-lasting raid operation.”
"The attackers intentionally selected Li for their attack as a response to the one-year Strike Hard Campaign,” Alimjan said.
“The selection of the target clearly indicated that the attack was a planned and organized act of terror.”
Ilham Abdurehim, the chief of Towen Tarsha village, said that the road Li had taken to return to Misha township was rarely used.
“The part of the road near Orpa Reservoir is a bit far from the township—there are usually only a few people passing through there and it’s pretty rough country, so that is why it was chosen for the attack,” he said.
According to an eyewitness, it may have taken about 30 minutes for the four suspects to have waylaid Li and murder him, Abdurehim said.
A farmer, Ghopur Nowruz, saw two motorcycles and one police car pass by while he was working on his land just about 300 meters (330 yards) away, he said.
“Thirty minutes later, he saw a body in the water and called [the police emergency number], so [the attack] must have happened in about 10 minutes.”
Abdurehim said that the four suspects had been captured in Misha’s Kiziboyi and Shaptul villages.
“More than 100 men were detained from my village alone [in connection with the incident], and the raid operation [to find the suspects] was carried out intensely in the four villages neighboring Orpa Reservoir,” he said.
“I’m not sure what occurred during the operations in the other villages, but nothing came of the one in Towen Tarsha. We kept a lookout for any yellow motorcycles after that, on police orders.”
A teacher living in Peyziwat county told RFA that the attack was directly related to Uyghur frustration over Chinese rule in Xinjiang.
“The incident is clearly indicative of the hatred between the Han and the Uyghurs,” the teacher said.
“Two mass public trials have been conducted in Peyziwat county since the Strike Hard Campaign began, with 43 and 65 suspects detained in connection with them,” he said.
“All of them were former prisoners, detainees, and suspects, but they weren’t guilty of anything. These trials were just carried out as a show in the name of the campaign.”
Exile Uyghur groups and human rights organizations say Beijing’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, including restrictions during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and on other religious practices, have provoked unrest.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.