Chinese authorities shot dead two ethnic minority Uyghurs and captured another after accusing them of bombing a police station in fresh violence in China’s troubled northwestern Xinjiang region this week, police said.
Eyewitnesses said that one of them was gunned down even though he emerged unarmed in an operation to nab suspects who had conducted a predawn raid on the police station in Hotan prefecture's Guma (in Chinese, Pishan) county on Tuesday.
Two police officers were injured in the attack on the police station in the Muji township in the southwestern part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Muji police chief Memet Niyaz said.
He accused the trio of staging the attack at 1.15 a.m., saying they fled after lobbing two explosives into the station's premises.
They hurled the bombs from outside after they were unable to break open the station's "sturdy" doors, he told RFA's Uyghur Service. "The attackers threw two explosives one after another and retreated," he said.
The loud blasts awakened the neighborhood, residents said, as police threw a security blanket in the vicinity and launched a manhunt for the suspects over the next two days.
They cornered the three suspects in Sanju village in the Muji township, shooting two of them dead and capturing the third, Niyaz said.
Their identities were not immediately available.
One of them, who is believed to be 19 to 20 years old, was shot dead even though he emerged unarmed during a raid on an asparagus farm set on fire to flush out the suspect, according to a farmer who was deployed by the authorities to help in the operation.
"Nobody wanted to [help police surround the asparagus farm] of their own free will but we had to because we were worried we would be blamed as being a 'terrorist sympathizers,'" the farmer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFA.
"The boy rushed out of the burning field, but he did not have any weapon in his hands," he said.
"They could have captured him alive. Even if they had asked us, we would have captured him for them and his life would have been spared," said the farmer, adding that some of the farmers had "wept all night" over the killing.
'Refused to surrender'
Police said they did not take any chances after the suspect refused to surrender.
"We waited for about one hour and then set the asparagus farm ablaze to flush him out," police chief Niyaz said. "He was forced to come out. As he came out, we shot him dead."
The other suspect who was killed had also refused to surrender, Niyaz said.
"He was holding a knife, so we shot him."
Chinese authorities have been stepping up crackdowns against Uyghurs they said were linked to violence following a deadly bomb and knife attack at a train station in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi on April 30 when President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a visit to the region.
Three people were killed and 79 injured in the attack. Two of the alleged assailants were among the dead.
Seven linked to railway attack arrested
Chinese police have arrested seven people suspected of involvement in the train station attack, the state-backed newspaper Global Times reported on Saturday.
Global Times said the seven were held in a farm in Sanji (in Chinese, Changji) city not far from Urumqi.
They included two brothers, a cousin, and the wife of one of the assailants, identified as Sedirdin Sawut, who authorities said was behind the suicide attack at the Urumqi South railway station.
Last week, authorities in Sawut’s hometown in Aksu prefecture’s Shayar (Xayar) county of Gulbagh in Shayar told RFA that they had rounded up more than 100 of his relatives in their bid to identify “like-minded” people who may be planning future terrorist strikes.
The attack outside the Urumqi train station followed a stabbing spree in March at a railway station in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming that state media said was carried out by people from Xinjiang and left 29 people dead and 143 injured.
After the Urumqi blast, authorities in Xinjiang, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and other major cities began carrying out "discriminatory" detentions and searches of Uyghurs, particularly students, a spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress had said.
Uyghur rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including curbs on Islamic practices and the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Official figures show that about 100 people, mostly Uyghurs, were believed killed in attacks in Xinjiang over the last year.
Deadly 2009 ethnic riots between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi left around 200 people dead and sparked a security crackdown targeting Ugyhurs.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.