Members of a police auxiliary unit killed in a bomb attack Thursday in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region had harassed ethnic Uyghurs, singling out men with beards and women wearing traditional head coverings, according to police sources.
The attack in Aksu city, in which a man riding a three-wheeled vehicle threw explosives at a group of uniformed patrolmen, killed seven people and wounded 14, according to wire service reports. The man was taken into custody, while a woman who accompanied him in the attack was killed, China's official Xinhua news service said.
Four of those killed in the attack were patrolmen, members of a unit working in support of the regular police, a senior officer of the Aksu Municipal Police Department told Radio Free Asia, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The attack took place at 8:30 a.m., local time,” the officer said.
“A group of 15 from the Igerchi police station had gone out on patrol. When they came to the Dolan Bridge, about 500 meters from the station, they waited for other patrolmen to catch up with them, and were suddenly attacked.”
Three of the patrolmen—Abdukerim Emet, Kurban Tuniyaz, and Ezmet Mamut—were killed on the spot, he said. Another died on his way to the hospital.
It is a routine duty of Uyghur patrolmen at the Igerchi station to go out for an hour each day to “check” other Uyghurs who appear in public wearing beards or traditional head coverings, the officer said.
“We record their identification and take them to the nearest police unit for political education. If they resist, we take them to the main police station for questioning,” he said.
The men killed in Thursday’s bombing had just begun this daily patrol when they were attacked, the officer said.
An officer at the Igerchi police station confirmed his superior’s account, saying, “We always check people with beards or head coverings. Because of this, people look on us with hate.”
“Two days ago, we brought in a bearded man for questioning. When we did this, he began a huge argument with our officers,” he said.
Zubeira Shemshidin, a staff member of the Washington-based Uyghur Democracy and Human Rights Foundation, said that while the slain patrolmen were themselves ethnic Ugyhurs, the bomb attack had appeared to target “people wearing the uniforms of Chinese law enforcement officers who were carrying out a political mission.”
“So this was an attack on the Chinese government,” she said.
She called on Chinese authorities not to use Thursday’s attack as an excuse to persecute Uyghurs, and instead to respect Uyghurs’ right to religious freedom and beliefs.
Millions of Uyghurs—a distinct, Turkic minority who are predominantly Muslim—populate Central Asia and Xinjiang.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Those frustrations erupted in July 2009 in deadly riots that left nearly 200 people dead, by the Chinese government's tally.
Chinese authorities blame Uyghur separatists for a series of deadly attacks in recent years and accuse one group in particular of maintaining ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Translations by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.