An incident involving the killing of three female relatives of a Uyghur suspect who was arrested during China’s most recent “strike hard” campaign has come to light in the wake of recent reports by state media that authorities had foiled scores of “terrorist” plots in the country’s restive northwest.
Police in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture in Xinjiang killed the wife, mother and sister of 24-year-old Nurmemet Omer during a raid last July 27, officer Zulpiqar Imin, who was involved in the operation, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Officers detained Omer in mid-July on suspicion of being part of a plotted attack in the prefecture’s Toqsu (Xinhe) county, although he denied the charges.
When the police team went to Omer’s home in Ujme village, Yultuzbagh township, they found the house vacant.
They broadened the search when they received information that Omer’s wife, mother and sister were hiding in a friend’s house in neighboring Gholeriq village, which they raided on July 27.
“Four people were in the house when we surrounded it,” Imin said. “We called to them to surrender, but no one followed the order. Instead, they threw a few Molotov cocktails and homemade petrol bombs at us from the windows of the house.”
Although the force of the bombs was not strong and did not injure the police or damage their vehicles, it gave the officers a legitimate reason to open fire, he said.
“Of course, there were some disputes between our commanders when they decided to open fire,” Imim said. “Some said the three women needed to be captured alive, because it was unclear whether the bombs were thrown by them or the man who was in the house.”
Some argued that the women were guilty because they failed to surrender when ordered, so police opened fire and killed Omer’s 22-year-old wife Rexime Toxti, his mother who was in her mid-40s, his sister who was in her early 20s, and a male occupant, he said
After the incident, Omer received a 10-year sentence, although Imin said he did not know what specific charges were brought against him.
Relatives sought information about Omer
Qasim Hesen, the head of Ujme village, said authorities informed residents that the three women were strong supporters of Omer’s terrorist gang and guilty of attacking the police.
“But we don’t know who was or used to be in Omer’s terrorist gang and what they planned to do,” he told RFA. “The police investigated the three women and came to the conclusion [that they were involved] after killing them.”
A village resident who requested anonymity said no one in the village believes the women had links to political or criminal activities.
Villagers heard that they went to Gholeriq village to ask Omer’s friends about him because police had told them nothing about the reason for his detention, he said.
“They were not escaping from the village or hiding somewhere as officials noted,” he said. “The three were killed while they tried to find out about Omer’s case.”
The Xinjiang region, which is home to more than 10 million Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, has seen an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012, and which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.
Chinese media last week said police had caught or thwarted 181 different terrorist gangs in Xinjiang during its most recent yearlong crackdown in the largely Muslim region.
Authorities rolled out the strike hard campaign following a deadly suicide bombing in May 2014 in the regional capital Urumqi, which they blamed on Uyghur separatists.
The campaign has included police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur of RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.