Authorities in China’s far northwestern Xinjiang region are pursuing a new suspect in a bomb-making case, police say, after they found no links between an alleged bomb-maker and four men shot dead in a raid earlier this month.
Police in Xinjiang’s central Bayingolin prefecture are searching for Erkin Emet, a former fruit-seller and prison inmate from Hejing county, in connection with an accidental bomb explosion in Korla city, police said Saturday.
After investigating an alleged bomb-maker, Tohti Ibrahim, whom they had detained after a bomb exploded at his home, police conducted a raid on a nearby farmhouse on March 8.
They shot dead four Uyghur men in the raid, but afterward admitted the four were not linked to Ibrahim’s bomb-making activities.
Now, shifting the focus to others who they say may be connected to Ibrahim’s bomb-making, police have placed a high priority on the search for Emet, an officer in Hejing county said Saturday.
“Today we have more than two hundred police surrounding [Shangyu] township, searching each of the houses one by one,” Husenjan Musa, chief of the Shangyu township police station in Hejing.
“Of course some people are not happy with the searches, but we have managed to make them understand that this is an urgent state security case,” he said.
Police fear a possible terrorist connection to the accidental explosion in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where Beijing says its terrorism threat comes from.
The region has been gripped by persistent ethnic tensions between the Muslim Uyghurs and the rapidly growing Han Chinese migrant population.
Korla police had said that the four slain men had harbored terrorist intentions, though they did not elaborate, and local residents who knew the men disputed the claim.
Musa said that police are conducting parallel investigations in Kargilik (in Chinese, Yecheng) county in Kashgar prefecture, where Emet’s former cellmate lives, and in Kunes (Xinyuan) county in Ili prefecture, where Emet’s wife is from.
“Unfortunately, so far we don’t have any clues to his location, which is why we are taking a broad and fast approach to this operation. We hope no incidents like the one in Towurchi will occur again,” Musa said, referring to the farmhouse raid where the four men were killed.
Former prison inmate
Emet, around 40 years old, had been the owner of a fruit store before he served three years in prison for speaking out about politically sensitive topics, according to Ebey Sadiq, a former classmate and the head of the neighborhood in Shangyu township where Emet grew up.
“He fell afoul of the law because of his tongue,” Sadiq said, but did not elaborate on specific charges.
Emet was released from Changji Prison in December 2011, and had not found employment since, Sadiq said.
“At the meeting, officers from Changji prison warned us, ‘Ideologically he has not changed. You have to watch him all the time,’” he said.
Emet’s older brother and sister-in-law were sentenced in 2011 to five and three years in prison, respectively, for illegal religious activity, Sadiq said.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.