Residents of northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have rejected claims by state media that one of the alleged perpetrators of a deadly attack at a coal mine had been “brainwashed” with Jihadist rhetoric and that a local police chief was “martyred” while rescuing the suspects’ hostages.
The attack occurred on Sept. 18, when a group of knife-wielding suspects set upon security guards at the gate of the Sogan Colliery in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Bay (Baicheng) county, before targeting the mine owner’s residence and a dormitory for workers.
Some 50 mostly majority Han Chinese were killed in the incident—including at least four police officers and a police chief—and around 50 others injured.
In late November, Chinese official media reported that police killed 28 members of a “terrorist group” following a two-month manhunt for suspects in the coal mine attack. Local sources said the suspects, who included women and children, were members of five or six ethnic Uyghur families who lived in the area.
A report last week by China’s official CCTV said the attack was masterminded by two men, Musa Toxtiniyaz and Memet Eysa, who had been influenced by extremist videos, and included a prison confession by Turghun Emet—an alleged attacker who surrendered—who said they had given him a knife and told him he would go to paradise if he killed someone.
Emet said he had initially hidden with the other suspects in a cave following the attack, but later left for the home of his father-in-law, who CCTV said had convinced the young man to surrender to police.
Additionally, CCTV reported that four ethnic Uyghur herders who had been guiding police through the mountainous region were taken hostage by the suspects during the manhunt and that Memet Toxtiniyaz, a Uyghur police chief from Bay county, was later kidnapped while searching for them.
It said Toxtiniyaz had “bravely negotiated the release” of the four hostages, but that he was later “martyred” by the suspects.
A teacher in Bay county, who spoke to RFA’s Uyghur Service on condition of anonymity, said the reports were inaccurate and had been manufactured by the authorities to support their version of events and justify their killing of the suspects.
“The government is propagating the success of the operation in such a ridiculous way—how can we believe that Memet Toxtiniyaz rescued the four hostages when he couldn’t even rescue himself,” the teacher asked.
“The suspects kidnapped the four herders simply to avoid being found by the police … It is clear that the suspects did not intend to kill them, because otherwise they could have done so on the day they were taken, without waiting for Memet Toxtiniyaz and his negotiations.”
The teacher said the suspects knew the herders had been coerced to help police with the manhunt and would never have thought to hurt them.
“All this praise of Memet Toxtiniyaz’s braveness is unbelievable, and the testimonies supporting it made by Mahmut [one of the four herders] and Turghun Emet were fake,” he said.
“It is clear that the statement was written by a reporter in Chinese, then translated [into Uyghur] for them to read, because … the adjectives used in the sentences are not words Uyghurs would ever use to praise braveness.”
‘Typically brainwashed Uyghur’
A screen grab from a state media report describing Memet Toxtiniyaz's role in a manhunt for suspects of the coal mine attack. Credit: Sina Video
A former government employee, who also declined to be named, told RFA that he did not believe Emet had been brainwashed, as he would not have been able to acknowledge it so soon after the fact.
“But I believe Memet Toxtiniyaz was a typically brainwashed Uyghur—he had no Uyghur friends, he did not believe in religion, he didn’t enjoy Uyghur music, and he spoke Han Chinese, even when talking to his fellow Uyghur police officers, so he was disliked by other Uyghurs,” he said.
“During the manhunt, he was trying to improve his career, but he overestimated the power of the police and underestimated the power of the suspects. He died because he accidentally encountered the suspects—the act wasn’t brave and it was simply because he was trying to help himself.”
Elniyaz Turdi, the chief of Chokatal village in Bay county’s Kan township, told RFA that Emet is the son of the village’s former party secretary Emet Sidiq, who had faced punishment because of his connection to the suspect.
“Emet Sidiq was party secretary of our village when the coal mine attack occurred, and even though he joined the manhunt, when it became known that his son had taken part in the attack, [Sidiq] was dismissed from his post and thrown in a detention center, where he remains,” Turdi said.
“Beside his son’s participation in the group, the investigation revealed that [Sidiq] had closed his eyes to the activities of the suspects while they were preparing their attack—that is why Turghun Emet went to his father in-law’s house when he escaped from the cave [where the suspects were hiding].”‘Propaganda purposes’
Ilshat Hasan, a Washington-based Uyghur observer, told RFA all of the official reports about the Bay county coal mine attack and the subsequent police operations had been “prepared for propaganda purposes,” and included details which contradicted one another.
He said that the reports had described the manhunt encircling the mountain area where the suspects hid as “a net in heaven and a trap on earth,” suggesting there was no escape, but Emet’s flight from the cave indicated that either the dragnet wasn’t as impenetrable as authorities claimed or that the Uyghur residents who had been coerced into joining the operation had allowed him to leave.
He also questioned why state media had yet to mention all of the names of the suspects killed in the police raid.
“I believe that it is because doing so would reveal that there were women [and children] among the suspects,” Hasan said.
“That is why the Chinese government is only reporting small bits of the details—that is how propaganda works.”
China has vowed to crack down on the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang, but experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur “separatists” and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.