At least 12 Uyghurs have been killed in a blast in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region apparently triggered by explosive devices they were carrying while being pursued by police, according to local officials.
The incident occurred in Ghorachol town in Awat county in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s Aksu prefecture earlier this month following a house-to-house search conducted by local police officers, according to one official.
Adil Semet, a township official, claimed that the group of Uyghurs was killed when they were cornered by police after they eluded the house search in Ghorachol’s District No. 1.
When police confronted the group near an area controlled by a semi-military unit 25 kilometers (15 miles) away, “some of them were arrested, some of them blew themselves up and others escaped,” Adil Semet told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s local committee “told us that 12 of the suspects were killed,” he said, adding that five of the suspects had been previously arrested in connection with July 2009 ethnic violence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in the capital Urumqi that left 200 dead, but were later set free.
No police were injured or killed in the explosion, and two male suspects escaped from the scene and remain at large, he said.
Quoting information he said he received from a meeting with the Awat county party committee, Adil Semet said the group had made bombs and were plotting to explode them.
“When the government came to investigate and arrest them, they tried escape,” he said.
The suspects were believed to be from Ghorachol, he said. Local officials were asking residents to sign pledges saying that they had no connection to the suspects and would report any suspicious activity to authorities.
“Within two days of the incident, everything was dealt with properly,” he said, adding that order had been restored to the area.
Adil Semet’s account could not be independently confirmed. Residents of Ghorachol were reluctant to speak about the alleged explosion, saying that they feared for their safety.
But a nurse from Ghorachol hospital, whose husband is a member of the local government stability work group, said that she had heard the incident initially took place near the town bazaar.
“Yes, I heard about it,” she said on condition of anonymity, adding that “security is so tight right now.”
A Communist Party cadre from a nearby town also confirmed that the incident had occurred.
“Yes, it happened and has been suppressed already,” he said.
“Local guys were involved. I was told after it happened and now every cadre from the nearby towns is in Ghorachol to assist with stability work.”
Other sources suggested that at least one woman was among the suspects who escaped the blast.
News of the explosion came as Chinese state media on Wednesday reported new clashes in Xinjiang that left 27 people dead following an attack on a police station by a “knife-wielding mob” in remote Pichan county, near the Silk Road city of Turpan.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, attackers killed 17 people including nine police and security personnel, before police opened fire on them, killing 10. The incident is believed to be the deadliest in Xinjiang since the July 2009 violence in Urumqi.
In April this year, a clash left 21 people dead after authorities allegedly uncovered a “terrorism plot” during a house search in Maralbeshi county and squared off with a group of Uyghurs they said were armed with knives.
In Xinjiang, rights groups say that the Chinese authorities are indiscriminately jailing Uyghurs in the name of fighting terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism, and are intensifying the influx of Han Chinese in the region.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
Reported by Guliqiekela Keyoumu and Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.