China Launches Regional Security Crackdown After Urumqi Attack


2014.05.23
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xinjiang-urumqi-police-patrol-may-2014.jpg Chinese paramilitary police patrol a street in Urumqi, May 23, 2014.
AFP

Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang on Friday announced a "one-year crackdown" on "violent terrorist activities" after authorities blamed suicide bombers for an attack in the regional capital Urumqi that left 31 people dead.

State media said five suicide bombers carried out the attack at a crowded market in a busy morning market on Thursday that also injured 94.

Chinese authorities "are investigating whether there were other accomplices," the ruling Chinese Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper said.

Police on Friday put out a notice describing two suspects named as Kurban Kadim and Abulaiti Niyam.

An Urumqi resident surnamed Zhou said local citizens had also seen the bulletin, which calls for the men to be apprehended immediately.

"They identified the suspects from surveillance camera footage and through investigation, and managed to discover what they look like," Zhou said.

"The police and the state security police have put a huge amount of effort into this."

He said the city remained on high alert following the attack, which came weeks after a knife and bomb blast—also blamed on suicide bombers—at the Urumqi southern railway station that left two people dead.

"Every workplace has stepped up security measures, and there are riot police and armed police patrolling the streets," Zhou said.

He said many Han Chinese migrants working in small businesses in and around the Silk Road city of Kashgar are being told to leave the region.

"A lot of stallholders and shop owners are being told to go back to their hometowns," Zhou said. "They have already been issued with a notice, which was posted this afternoon."

Campaign launched

Authorities in Xinjiang on Friday announced a one-year anti-terrorism campaign in response to Thursday's attack, the deadliest violence to hit the region since ethnic riots in July 2009 left 200 dead, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Dilxat Raxit, Germany-based spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group, said police had been targeting Uyghurs based on their ethnicity in the wake of the attack.

"The authorities are using this incident to launch another political campaign [in the region]," Raxit said.

"Uyghurs in every major school and institution and in the art world, including teachers, students and civil servants are [being told to sign] documents pre-drafted by the Chinese government," he said.

Around 200 Uyghur artists gathered at a meeting on Friday, where they signed mass declarations "condemning violent terrorist acts," according to one official media report.

Raxit said security measures like identity card checks were also specifically targeted at Uyghurs.

"The authorities have stepped up special security checks aimed at migrant Uyghurs or those not in their hometowns," Raxit said.

"A lot of Uyghurs have been detained, although definite figures aren't available," he said.

"The ones doing the detaining are riot police and armed police from Urumqi municipal police departments."

Rallying the public

In spite of warnings that targeted security measures against the region's mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group could have contributed to the attacks in the first place, Beijing on Friday appeared to be rallying public opinion behind further crackdowns, via opinion articles in its tightly controlled media.

"There is no popular support for separatism, nor for those who create chaos and destroy stability," the Xinjiang Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Friday.

"We must stick to our 'strike hard' policy and keep up the pressure right to the end," it said.

However, the English-language version of nationalist tabloid Global Times newspaper hinted at other questions behind the threat of further terrorist attacks.

"The causes of the terrorist attacks are perhaps so complicated and profound as to go beyond our traditional view," the paper said.

It added: "Though policy errors in the course of history partly contributed to the current plight, we must impede complaints and criticism from shaping public opinions on Xinjiang."

It said the government should pay full attention to calls from Uyghurs—who complain of heavy-handed religious and cultural restrictions, widespread discrimination and a lack of economic opportunity—for a better life, however.

But it didn't link such calls to the attackers' motivations.

"[Uyghurs] should play a major role in fighting violent terrorists who are just a handful of separatists," the paper said.

The English-language China Daily quoted regional expert Ma Pinyan of the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences as saying that the government isn't doing enough to solve the root causes of terrorism.

Such attacks can cause economic damage and attract  the attention of "anti-China forces" in the West, who will support terrorism with funding or weapons, Ma warned.

The official Tianshan portal of the regional government published its homepage in black and white out of respect to the victims of Thursday's blast.

Target

A second Urumqi resident surnamed Jia said the victims were mostly elderly people out shopping for cheap goods.

"It was a morning market, and they were older people out looking for a bargain," Jia said.

"The armed police and riot police as well as some workplaces are engaged in an integrated prevention operation, including laid-off workers wearing red armbands patrolling and carrying out checks," he said.

"But they are only symbolic checks ... you can't prevent this sort of thing," he said. "The market wasn't open to traffic until 9:00 a.m."

Zhou agreed, saying the attackers had clearly targeted the market.

"I went there a while back and the gates were shut, and vehicles couldn't get through ... but they smashed through the barrier," he said.

"This shows that they had a target, and that they had researched this place."

Regional security

There were signs that a massive security operation was under way elsewhere in the region on Friday.

An employee who answered the phone at a hotel in Atush city in the west of the region said there were police out in force on the streets.

"They have stepped up their patrol forces over here," the employee said.

"If there's someone who doesn't look right, then the police—the plainclothes police—make them show their ID card."

"There are police cars up and down the streets, even at night, and a lot of police vehicles in the square at night too," the employee said.

"In particular, over by Dashizi, because there are a lot of Uyghurs there, and there are a lot of police cars over that way too."

Earlier attacks

The WUC and other 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.

On April 30, as President Xi was wrapping up a visit to Xinjiang, assailants armed with knives and explosives carried out an attack at a railway station in Urumqi, killing one person and injuring 79. Two attackers also died.

In March, a group of attackers went on a stabbing spree at a railway station in Kunming in southwestern China, killing 29 people and wounding 143 in an incident dubbed "China's 9/11" by state media. Four of the assailants were shot dead by police.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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