The wife of a ruling Chinese Communist Party official in the restive Xinjiang region was stabbed to death and her husband severely wounded in an attack which authorities said was an act of revenge for a raid on ethnic minority Uyghur Muslims during a mosque prayer session.
Unknown assailants wielding axes and knives burst into the home of party secretary Rejep Islam in Hotan prefecture’s Qaraqash county at around 3:00 a.m. on July 19, killing his wife Zeynep Memtimin and leaving him in need of urgent medical care, according to the chief of his village, Memetjan Jumaq.
The attack comes amid unending violence that have led authorities to maintain an anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang, where many Uyghurs complain that they are subject to political, cultural, and religious repression for opposing Chinese rule.
Jumaq, head of Ayaq Purchaqchi village in Purchaqchi township, told RFA’s Uyghur Service that he had accompanied Islam a day earlier in a raid during prayer time on a local mosque as around 200 officials and security personnel searched for six suspects they had linked to a shooting incident in May.
“A Uyghur official from the township cautioned us to wait till the end of Tarawih (Ramadan evening) prayer and detain the suspects from their homes without disrupting the session, but Zhao, the party secretary of the township, said, ‘We should detain them now, otherwise we will lose them’,” Jumaq said.
“Rejep Islam, the head of our village supported it. As he entered the mosque, I followed him. He interrupted the sermon and announced, ‘We need to talk to some of you outside, while the others can continue your prayers,’ before reading off the names of the individuals.”
Jumaq said that authorities detained six people during the raid in connection with a May 27 house search that had led to a scuffle between the Uyghur occupants and authorities, and subsequent shooting death by police of the homeowner’s father.
“The people were very upset [about the prayer raid], including the Imam, but nobody could do anything because the mosque was surrounded by armed personnel,” he said.
Jumaq said that around 3:00 a.m. the next morning, he was awoken by a phone call informing him Islam had been attacked, so he went to inspect the crime scene at the party secretary’s home.
“I saw police standing guard at his door and then I saw Rejep Islam lying on the floor. He was later taken away to the emergency room. His wife Zeynep Memtimin had been killed,” he said.
“We saw the blood and injuries on their bodies and I passed out. I had done the same thing as Rejep Islam [during the raid], so I realized it was possible that I would meet the same fate someday. It was inevitable that this kind of thing would happen.”
Jumaq said he was told to return to his home after regaining consciousness, so he was unable to provide any further details of the investigation.
Hamtahun Kurban, the head of nearby Uttura Purchaqchi village, told RFA he had visited with Islam five days after he was hospitalized and said that the party secretary had related to him the details of the attack.
“According to Rejep Islam, he went to sleep that night feeling a bit anxious, so he kept a police baton with him under his pillow,” Kurban said.
“He awoke to hear his wife screaming and saw her being attacked by a few people with knives and axes. He set upon them with the baton, but was unable to stop them.”
Kurban said that Islam then ran into another room of the house and locked himself in, but the attackers broke through the windows in the door and attacked him with kitchen knives until he lost consciousness.
“Thinking that he was dead, the attackers left him there. But when he regained consciousness, he called for help from the police,” he said.
Rejep Islam was “very active” in maintaining area stability and “very strict” in managing religious affairs, Kurban said, referring to policies of an anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang stepped up following a May 22 bombing in the regional capital Urumqi, which killed 31 people and injured 90.
He said that since the campaign was launched, prompting increased house-to-house searches and raids, “only five or six women who were questioned had been detained by the police, while all others were detained by Rejep Islam alone,” raising animosity against him within the local Uyghur community.
Act of revenge
Keyum Ahmet, police chief of Purchaqchi township, told RFA that he believed Islam and his wife were targeted as revenge for the shooting death by police of Abdukerim Tohtiniyaz while searching the home of his 22-year-old son Abdurrahman Abdukerim in Ayaq Purchaqchi village on May 27.
Ahmet said that officers had been met “with resistance” during a routine search of Abdukerim’s home.
“When the police ordered two women of the household to take off their veils, Abdurrahman attacked them and beat them down when he saw that the officers were not carrying any weapons,” he said.
“When we arrived to help, Abdurrahman had escaped by leaping over his courtyard wall. His father, Abdukerim Tohtiniyaz, not only refused to cooperate in finding his son, but he also created a dispute with us. He was shot and killed on the spot.”
Ahmet said that police had been searching for Abdukerim since the incident, and that a subsequent investigation had determined 11 people—three of whom were women—had helped in hiding him.
“We detained six of them on July 18 during the Tarawih prayer,” he said, adding that he believed Abdukerim was responsible for the subsequent attack on Islam and his wife.
“The suspect Abdurrahman Abdukerim and his accomplices were taking revenge for his dead father and expressing their opposition to our detaining people during prayer. This was a violent terrorist crime.”
More than 200 people have died in unrest in Xinjiang in the past year or so, the government says.
On Monday, Chinese police in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county in Xinjiang’s Kashgar prefecture shot dead dozens of knife and axe-wielding Uyghurs who went on a rampage, apparently angry over restrictions during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the killing of a family of five during a house search in early July.
Reported by Shohret Hohshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.