Police shot dead five ethnic minority Uyghurs and lost one of their own in fresh clashes in China’s restive northwestern Xinjiang region amid stepped up security checks in an anti-terror clampdown imposed after deadly attacks in the capital, according to police.
Four of the men were shot in Kashgar prefecture’s Konasheher (in Chinese, Shufu) county in a confrontation triggered when local officials lifted a woman’s veil during a house check in her village a week ago, police there said.
The men, armed with knives and sticks, killed a policeman, also a Uyghur, before they succumbed to gunshots in the June 4 clash while two village officials were injured, the local police said.
In a separate incident a week earlier, a man was shot dead in neighboring Aksu prefecture’s Awat county while fleeing from authorities pursuing him for alleged involvement in a “social stability” crime, police said.
The clashes come amid stepped up house-to-house security checks and mass sentencings announced in Xinjiang—home to the mostly Muslim Uyghurs who complain of heavy-handed rule and ethnic discrimination under Chinese rule—since authorities launched an anti-terror drive last month.
In the Konasheher incident, the woman’s two brothers were angered by the lifting of her veil and attacked the Salayqong village officials with sticks and knives, an officer at the Lenger township police station told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“It happened because of a confrontation between the village cadres and the homeowners … over the veil,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
As they fled the village officials called in the police, who got in a fatal confrontation with the brothers and two other men who were in the house, he said.
Two of the men were shot dead early in the clash, one was shot and died later at the hospital, and the fourth died after being shot from behind while running away from police.
The dead policeman was identified as Tursun Ablimit, according to the source.
The others Uyghurs killed were Turaji Obulqasim, Dawut Zunun, Tursunjan Hoseyin, and Hoseyin’s older brother, he said.
'Plotting terrorist activities'
Police have said the four men were suspected of “plotting terrorist activities” together, he said, without providing details.
Two of the men were from outside the village, he added.
Chinese authorities discourage the wearing of veils, headscarves, and other forms of Islamic dress in Xinjiang, where Uyghur Muslims complain of eroding religious rights.
Uyghur exile rights groups have blamed invasive security measures in Xinjiang for contributing to violence in the region, saying house-to-house security checks targeting Uyghur neighborhoods have been responsible for frequent clashes between Uyghurs and police.
Konasheher county was also the scene of bloody violence in December, when 14 Uyghurs were shot dead by police in Saybagh village in an incident that state media said had been perpetrated by a “terror gang but which exile Uyghur groups characterized as state violence against peaceful demonstrators.
In Aksu prefecture, authorities in Awat county are searching for the alleged accomplice of the man shot and killed on May 29, police said.
The two men were riding together on a motorcycle when Besheriq village police who had been instructed to pursue them caught up with them in Towekoktala village, opening fire and killing one of the men, police said.
Besheriq police station chief Enver Molla told RFA that police were disappointed they had not caught both men alive.
Besheriq policeman Ahmetjan Rozi said the two men had been fleeing from a “social stability” crime they allegedly committed in neighboring Yenqieriq county, but police had been given little information about what the two were suspected of doing.
“We were told that the suspects had some petroleum. It could have been used to start a fire and it was deemed a tool for violence,” he said.
Xinjiang authorities declared a one-year crackdown on “violent terrorist activities” last month following a May 22 bombing at a market in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi that killed 43 people including the four attackers.
Since then, Xinjiang authorities have issued a flurry of announcements citing more than 300 arrests and scores of rapid prosecutions resulting in stiff sentences including the death penalty.
Sources across Xinjiang have reported to RFA broader and more intense house-to-house security checks in their towns and villages since the market bombing, which came on the heels of an April 30 knife and bomb attack at a railway station in Urumqi.
Seventy-nine people were injured in the attack, which took place hours after President Xi Jinping concluded a visit to Xinjiang.
Chinese authorities have blamed both incidents, as well as an April stabbing at a train station in Yunnan and an October suicide bombing in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, on Uyghur extremists inspired by global jihadi ideology and seeking to overthrow Chinese rule.
Critics say violence in the region has been fueled by oppressive Chinese policies and strict religious controls, with overseas Uyghur rights groups claiming authorities exaggerate the separatist threat in the region to justify repressive security measures.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.