A Uyghur man has killed an undetermined number of people after driving his motorcycle into the wall of a border guard base in China’s restive northwestern Xinjiang region in a suicide attack on Chinese National Day, police and residents in the area told RFA this week.
The motorcycle crash caused an explosion at the People's Armed Police facility in a rural area of Kargilik (in Chinese, Yecheng) county in Kashgar prefecture on Oct. 1, sources said, though the exact number of casualties was unknown.
The police station chief at nearby Besheliq village, Abdurahman Abdusattar, confirmed an attack had occurred shortly before 12:00 p.m. at a border guard base located between Wahpi and Chasamechit villages in Kokuruk hamlet.
“When we were informed about this it was around noon and we were on our way to the flag-raising ceremony for National Day.”
“We were told that some people died and some were injured. But because it happened on the base, we were not given the details,” he told RFA’s Uyghur service.
One resident in Chasamechit village speaking on condition of anonymity said a total of 20 people had died or been injured in the incident, but police have not confirmed the figure.
Domestic media have silenced news of the incident because the political sensitivity of an attack occurring on the national holiday—the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949—could heighten tensions in a region where ethnic Uyghurs chafe under Chinese rule, a local official in another nearby village said.
Before the attack, a group of two or three young Uyghur men on motorcycles had ridden into Kargilik from neighboring Guma (Pishan) county and driven around the base, surveying the location, a local resident said, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity.
Around 11:00 a.m., the group stopped in Besheliq, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the base, where one or two of them stayed while the remaining rider drove on alone to attack the base, the source said.
The man is believed to have died in the explosion.
Police have arrest warrants and are searching for two Uyghur men around age 21 or 22, Abdurahman Abdusattar said.
“From what we can see from their pictures they are modern-looking Uyghur boys with unshaved heads and without beards,” he said.
He said local authorities had tightened security, setting up checkpoints around the county and putting police stations on alert.
“We have set up checkpoints at every entry point to the county and are checking every person and vehicle coming and leaving Kargilik,” he said on Thursday.
“Right now even the village cadres are working at the checkpoints. We were told from the top to protect local police stations with extra vigilance in case of an attack,” he said.
He added that county officials were holding a meeting to discuss the incident and could release information later. “Maybe soon we will receive more information about it,” he said.
A local official in a nearby village, speaking on condition of anonymity, said news of the incident had been kept out of the media in order to quell fears among the Han Chinese living in Kargilik, where 20 people were killed in a stabbing incident in February.
Last week’s attack could have been a reaction to the shooting in December of a group of Uyghurs in Guma county last December, the official said.
The group of seven Uyghurs, including women and children, had been traveling to the Pakistani border in an attempt to flee the country, but were killed in a confrontation authorities described as a “terrorist” attack.
Chinese authorities often link Uyghurs in Xinjiang to violent separatist groups but experts familiar with the region have said China has exaggerated the threat and cited a “war on terror” in attempt to redirect criticism of domestic policies that cause unrest.
Uyghurs say they are subjected to political control and persecution for opposing Chinese rule in Xinjiang, which has been gripped by persistent ethnic tensions between Muslim Uyghurs and the rapidly growing Han Chinese population.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.