Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET on 2014-4-30
Three people were killed and 79 injured Wednesday in a knife and bomb attack on a railway station in the capital of China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, as President Xi Jinping ended a visit to the restive region, state media and officials said.
Xinhua news agency quoted police as saying that "knife-wielding mobs slashed people" at an exit of the South Railway Station of Urumqi and set off explosives, calling the raid a “violent terrorist act.”
“Three people were confirmed dead and 79 others were injured, including four seriously injured, in the terrorist attack,” Xinhua said.
The agency said Xi carried out on Wednesday an “inspection tour” of Xinjiang, home to the country's mostly Muslim Uyghur minority who complain of oppressive Chinese policies and strict religious controls.
But it was not immediately clear if the president, who earlier described the region as the "front line" against terrorism, was still in the area when the attack occurred.
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,” Xinhua said.
The Urumqi raid came two months after a group of attackers state media said were Uyghurs went on a stabbing spree at a railway station in the city of Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan province, leaving 29 people dead and 143 injured.
Four surviving members of what the Chinese authorities called a "terrorist gang" have been charged with carrying out the March 1 attack, dubbed "China's 9/11" by state media.
The Urumqi railway station was closed after the incident and services suspended before being reopened at around 9pm local time under the heavy presence of armed police, Agence France-Presse reported. An investigation into the attack is under way, it said.
Photos on social media removed
Photos posted on Chinese social media sites showed blood on suitcases and debris on the ground in front of the station. Many of the postings on China's Twitter-like microblog site Weibo were later removed by censors.
A powerful blast went off at around 7:00 p.m. local time at the Urumqi station, and appeared to be centered around some luggage left on the ground between the station exit and a public bus stop, Xinhua said, citing witnesses.
"The blast was powerful. A man at a nearby hotel said he thought it was an earthquake," the agency said, adding that police had cordoned off the entire area and deployed armed police to the scene.
The station had been scheduled to begin operating new rail links with Kuytun, Shihezi, and Karamay cities on Thursday.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress exile group, said he feared the incident would lead to a new round of repression against the Uyghurs.
"It's extremely worrying. No matter what happens, China first of all represses the Uyghurs, leading to many innocent Uyghurs being locked up," he told Reuters news agency.
"We can see from this that Xinjiang is in a period of turmoil, and such incidents could happen again at any time. This is the trend and it's directly related to Beijing's policies."
Deadly 2009 ethnic riots in Urumqi left around 200 people dead and sparked an ever-intensifying security crackdown targeting Uyghurs, rights groups and exile Uyghurs say.
Official figures show that about 100 people were believed killed in Xinjiang over the last year—many of them Uyghurs accused by the authorities of terrorism and separatism.
Rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against Uyghurs.
Many Uyghurs refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, as the region had come under Chinese control following two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 1940s.
They say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination and oppressive religious controls under Beijing's policies, blaming the problems partly on the influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Reported by RFA's Mandarin, Uyghur and Cantonese Services. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.