Four Uyghur men shot dead by police in China’s troubled Xinjiang region last week were not linked to bomb-making activities as suspected but may have had “terror plans,” security officials said Tuesday, as residents disputed any terrorism intentions.
The men were gunned down in a pre-dawn raid at a farmhouse near Korla city in central Xinjiang on Thursday, as part of the Chinese government's "strike hard" anti-crime campaign in the region, after police had detained a bomb-making suspect in the city.
Korla police said that there was evidence that the men, who defended themselves with knives during the raid, had plans for terrorist activity, though they did not elaborate.
Beijing considers Xinjiang a terrorism hotspot and the incident added to tensions in the region, where Uyghurs complain of policies favoring Han Chinese migration and the unfair allocation of resources to the Chinese.
Local residents who knew the Uyghurs involved disputed the police theory that those killed were suspected terrorists, claiming that the Chinese authorities had fabricated evidence in the past to justify the killings of Uyghurs.
A security official said that Tohti Ibrahim, who was detained after a bomb exploded at his home in Korla city, was – unlike previous suspicions – not working with the four killed in Towurchi, a rural township 20 km (12 miles) outside the city.
Korla police had identified the Towurchi farmhouse as a target for the raid after detaining and interrogating 20 of Ibrahim’s hospital visitors.
“Yes, it was wrong to make the conjecture [that they were linked], but the shooting was not wrong, because the four disobeyed police during the raid operation,” said Seypidin, a senior security official in Korla.
Moreover, the four killed had shown evidence of extremism, he said, defending the police action.
“Even though they don't have an organizational link with the bomb-maker, their ideology and political views are 100 percent the same. And in addition, we found enough evidence of a terror plan, like axes and boxing gloves,” he said.
But a Towurchi resident who knew the four men disagreed with the police view that the men had any terrorist intentions, explaining that the items police had confiscated as evidence were not uncommon.
“I don't believe they had materials and items for a terror plan. Probably the boxing gloves and bows and arrows were for sports for them and their children. Axes and knives can be found in all the houses in Korla,” he said.
“Police, especially state security police, always fabricate evidence to justify their killing,” he added.
Three of the four men were from out of town and had served time in jail for unknown offenses, according to the Towurchi resident and Korla police.
Ghulamidin Yasin, the police officer who led the raid on the Towurchi farmhouse, said one of the four men was from Akto (Aketao) county in Kizilsu prefecture, and two others were from Peyziwat (Gashi) and Kargilik (Yecheng) counties in Kashgar prefecture. It was not known where the fourth person came from.
They had moved to the township to start a terrorist camp, the officer claimed, while the resident said they had come to work on the farm in Towurchi two years ago after being harassed by police in their hometowns.
“They had left their hometowns to be rid of police trouble because of their police records. They moved to Korla just to seek a peaceful life,” he said.
“Of course they had to evade the police raid because they knew what would happen to them if they were detained. And on the other hand, as strong religious believers, they don’t submit easily to unjust treatment,” he said.
Tohti Ibrahim, the bomb-making suspect originally linked to the men killed, may have been motivated to make a bomb in revenge against his wife’s detention, according to his neighbors and Korla police.
"Tohti Ibrahim’s case is much different from the others’. His actions were mostly motivated by personal or family anger, rather than ethnic tension,” a neighbor said.
Ibrahim’s wife had been detained by city police, along with his brother Memet Ibrahim’s wife, for holding an “illegal religious gathering” with a dozen other women on Feb. 28, neighbors and police said.
The raid on the gathering, in which police confiscated books and CDs, was part of a regional campaign against illegal religious activity, Ghulamidin Yasin said.
After his wife was detained, Ibrahim told his neighbors, “Now I’m in a situation where I cannot protect my wife. This is enough reason for me to be thrown into hell in the other world,” they said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.