HONG KONG—China’s Olympics committee is insisting that security is top priority at the Olympic Games after a deadly attack on police in the northwestern province of Xinjiang left 16 dead, according to state-run media.
“Concerning security and safety during the Olympics, the Chinese government and the Beijing Olympic Committee regard this as the most important issue,” the committee spokesman said.
“We have taken all...measures to safeguard the Olympics. We have prepared contingency plans for any threats against us,” he said by telephone.
On Monday, two men drove a dump truck into a group of policemen and then attacked them with grenades and knives, according to China’s official media. The men—identified as a taxi driver and vegetable seller, both belonging to the mainly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group—were later arrested.
The attackers, 28 and 33, lobbed homemade bombs at the officers and stabbed them with knives, killing 16 and wounding another 16 before being captured, the official Xinhua news agency said.
One of the attackers lost a hand when the homemade explosives blew up about 100 m (yards) from the border police base. Police later recovered additional explosives, a homemade gun and “propaganda materials about a holy war,” state media said.
Kashgar's Communist Party secretary called the assault an act of premeditated terrorism and told reporters the two attackers had prepared written statements saying “they had to wage ‘holy war,’” Xinhua said.
The weapons police recovered at the scene were similar to weapons found last year in raids on a training base of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), he was quoted as saying.
However, Xinhua also quoted Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region police chief Liu Yaohua as saying that there was no conclusive evidence yet that the attack was the work of Islamic terrorists.
Liu told a news conference in the regional capital, Urumqi, that “no sufficient evidence has been found to say for sure that ETIM was behind Monday’s deadly attack,” the agency reported.
China brands ETIM a “terrorist” organization. The group is said to be based along China's borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan and is alleged by the Chinese government to have links to al-Qaeda.
On July 9, two Uyghurs were executed near Kashgar after being convicted of membership in ETIM. On July 8, police killed five Uyghurs in Urumchi in a raid on an apartment. Official media said they were preparing a “holy war” against China.
The Public Security Bureau also announced in April that it had broken up two Uyghur terrorist cells plotting to kidnap foreigners and bomb hotels during the Olympics. It said 45 people were arrested and accused them of ETIM ties.Apology to journalists
16 paramilitary officers were killed and 16 injured in an apparent attack in central Kashgar
China meanwhile apologized Tuesday for the beating of two Japanese journalists detained near the site of the attack in Kashgar.
The Chinese foreign ministry told a senior diplomat at the Japanese embassy in Beijing that China regretted the incident, according to the Japanese news agency Kyodo.
Officials and police in Kashgar also apologized but said the men—a reporter and a photographer—had broken the rules, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said.
“Our photographer, along with another Japanese TV reporter, were walking on the street, not speaking to anyone,” the Beijing bureau chief of Chunichi Shimbun newspaper, said in an interview.
“Suddenly the police approached them and beat them up. Their cameras were confiscated, and they were detained for two hours. When they returned the cameras, they were damaged,” he said.
“Our reporter is on the way from Xinjiang to Beijing. His bones were fractured, and he will have to go to the hospital tomorrow…The Foreign Ministry has apologized, but the police department haven’t. They will seek compensation.”Crime scene
Residents reported a dramatic increase in security in Kashgar after the attack.
“The situation is very tense, and Chinese police and paramilitary forces are patrolling on the streets of Kashgar and checking people’s identity cards,” one residents said.
The scene of the explosion remained roped off on Tuesday, witnesses said.
“I went to the scene and found all shops on the nearby road have been shut down. Many of them are indecent massage parlors,” one resident said.
“At the headquarters of the local People’s Armed Police, there were 16 bodies lying on the ground in the courtyard, under police guard. At the explosion scene, there were many armed police and criminal police, and all of them had weapons,” he said.
One terror expert in Beijing meanwhile cast doubt on the allegation of a coordinated terrorist plot.
“Through analysis of all the relevant factors, I personally think the explosion was committed by several small-scale groups with connections to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement or that sympathize with and support the group,” Li Wei, an anti-terrorist expert said.
“They might be able to occasionally execute terrorist incidents in Xinjiang, but their capability to penetrate other parts of China is quite limited. Therefore, I don’t think this will influence the Beijing Olympics very much," Li, director of the center for the study of anti-terrorism at the government's China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), said.
Chinese officials have previously said extremists among the region’s mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghur population have plotted to carry out terrorist strikes during the Beijing Olympics.
“Of course it was absolutely carried out by the East Turkistan pro-independence group,” a government official involved in Olympic security said by telephone, apparently referring to the ETIM.
Asked what steps could be taken to prevent further attacks, he replied, “We have done everything we can.”
Uyghur-language message boards and Web sites based in China notably lacked any commentary or discussion on the incident. They simply republished official Chinese media accounts.
At a news conference Monday in Beijing, Zhou Wangcheng, director of risk management for the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee, cited an ongoing risk of terrorist attacks.
“Since the early 1990s, terrorist attacks have been the number one risk for Olympic preparations, and we are paying great attention to this issue,” he said.
“The danger of a terrorist attack directed at the Olympic Games has always been there. We have made a comprehensive contingency plan for that.”Tight security
Witnesses describe extremely tight security throughout Beijing and at all Olympic venues, with hotels circulating brochures labeled as Olympic guides and instructions on what to do in the event of fire or terrorism.
Officials have also noticeably tightened security in Hong Kong and neighboring Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province.
“You see more traffic police officers on the subway,” one Guangzhou commuter said. “The police are checking passengers’ luggage with special equipment.”
At Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou, a security guard described stepped-up checks as well.
“After passengers go through two checkpoints, they enter a waiting room, and we now do a third round of selective examinations.”
In Shenyang, Liaoning province, where some Olympic venues are located, police are guarding 133 parking lots used by city buses at night as well as the city’s 12 major bus terminals.
More than 60,000 taxi drivers in Beijing have meanwhile been told to keep vigilant eyes on passengers, while their cabs have been fitted with video cameras and satellite technology that transmits a live audio feed of what’s being said in the cab to a computer for monitoring and linguistic analysis, according to industry sources.
Original reporting by RFA’s Cantonese, Mandarin, and Uyghur services. Cantonese service chief: Shiny Li. Mandarin service chief: Jennifer Chou. Uyghur service chief: Dolkun Kamberi. Edited in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.