Updated at 7.30 a.m. ET on 2014-5-15
Three senior Han Chinese officials were brutally murdered and their bodies dumped in a pond when President Xi Jinping visited the Xinjiang region—home to the restive mostly Muslim Uyghur minority—last month, according to police and local officials who had kept the bloody crime under wraps.
The killing of the trio—two of whom had their throats slit and the third of whom had been stabbed 31 times—occurred on April 27, the first day of Xi’s four-day regional visit, which ended with a deadly blast at a railway station in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the officials said.
The three were among four officials on a fishing expedition in a lake in Kargilik county in Kashgar prefecture when they were killed, just one day before Xi visited the prefecture, police said.
When one of the officials couldn’t find the other three while fishing in Kokkolyar Lake, he reported the matter to police, resulting in a massive search that led to the discovery of their bodies, said Enver Tursun, deputy chief of the police station in Janggilieski town, where the incident occurred.
"Two of the men had their throats cut and were dumped into the lake, while the third one was stabbed in 31 places before he was also pushed into the lake,” Tursun told RFA’s Uyghur Service. “It indicates that the third man had resisted against the murder suspects.”
County level officials
He said that the men, aged between 38 and 45, were senior county level officials—one was head of a bank and the two others were chiefs of the telecommunication department—all of whom were transferred to Xinjiang two years ago. The fourth official was a director of a state-owned company.
All four were based in Poskam county, which neighbors Kargilik county.
“For 15 days, the regional police department chief Chen Tingjiang and leaders of the prefectural police department of Kashgar have been on the case and, so far, over 150 people have been interrogated with some of them still in detention, but we still are unable to pinpoint the suspects,” Janggilieski police chief Kuresh Hesen told RFA.
“We have now widened the search area,” he said.
A Janggilieski Politics and Law Commission official said the bodies were handed over to the wives of the men the next day.
A note posted on the Internet on May 3, and later deleted, claimed that the authorities had ordered the wives of the three Han officials to quickly bury their husbands.
As the three men did not have any bad records, the families believed they may have been victims of a “terrorist attack,” according to the note, which could not be immediately authenticated with the authorities.
Four other killings unconfirmed
The note, circulated on the Baidu and Tianya online forums, also mentioned four other killings on the same day of the murder case in Kargilik county, including that of a 13-year old female middle school student who was allegedly stabbed by “a woman wearing a black veil.”
None of them could be confirmed with the authorities.
A teacher at the No. 2 Middle School in Poskam county, however, confirmed with RFA’s Cantonese Service that the student was from the school, though he refused to provide any personal details.
Police had identified three to five initial suspects from the more than 150 people rounded up for questioning over the murder case, but have refused to give their identity, although many assume they are Uyghurs.
The Janggilieski Politics and Law Commission official said police believe the suspects were from Lengger village in the town, “which is 99 percent Uyghur.”
Xi visited a Kashgar police station on April 28, telling police officers that the prefecture is the “front line in anti-terrorist efforts and maintaining social stability.”
"Grassroots police stations are 'fists and daggers,' so you must spare no efforts in serving the people and safeguarding public security," Xi was quoted saying by state media.
Henryk Szadziewski, senior researcher at the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project said the murder case in Kashgar ahead of Xi’s visit to the prefecture is a significant development.
“It is a very alarming incident if the details are confirmed,” he told RFA’s Mandarin Service.
“The timing is probably the reason why the information was suppressed,” he said, noting that Xi had conveyed a message of “stability” and “security” during his visit.
Three people were killed and 79 injured in a knife and bomb attack on a railway station in Urumqi as President Xi Jinping concluded his Xinjiang trip.
Following the attack, Xi called for "decisive actions" against such raids, saying "the battle to combat violence and terrorism will not allow even a moment of slackness,” the Xinhua official news agency said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service, the Cantonese Service, and Nadia Usaeva for the Mandarin Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur, Shiny Li and Nadia Usaeva. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the report described the source at the middle school at Poskam county as a female.