Nearly a dozen Uyghurs shot dead by police in recent weeks in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been suspected of plotting a massive bombing campaign as part of a separatist movement, according to a source with knowledge of the case.
Police are still on the trail of five others involved in the campaign intended to set off 100 bombs on China’s National Day on Oct. 1 aimed at turning it into a “day of mourning,” the source told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Up to 11 suspects were killed in five raids between Sept. 25 and Oct. 11 in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county in Xinjiang’s Kashgar prefecture, the source said, underscoring a trend of increasing violence in the region, where the Muslim Uyghurs complain of discrimination and religious controls under Beijing’s rule.
Yarkand officials and authorities confirmed with RFA that all five raids had taken place during the period and that “separatists” had been both killed and captured during the operations.
Authorities had severely tightened restrictions in the region following the first raid, which the source said took place on the night of Sept. 25 and continued into the following morning in Odanliq township, and during which security forces killed as many as five suspects and captured two others.
“After the Odanliq incident, the police exposed a large scale attack plan and security forces declared a state of emergency for the entire county,” the source said.
The two suspects captured in the raid confessed to the plan by a separatist group, which consisted of 20 people who had gathered in Odanliq township in April to plot the bombing attack of local police stations and government buildings in Yarkand on Oct. 1.
Since discovering the plot, the source said, police had undertaken at least two preemptive actions and other operations to disrupt the separatist cell and locate their explosives.
“The police carried out five bloody raids in the course of three weeks—two separate ones in Odanliq, two in Tomosteng and one in Yingwusitang township,” he said.
“So far, 11 of 20 suspects have been killed and four captured during the raids.”
He said that the members of the group were Uyghurs from a variety of different townships and villages in Yarkand and authorities were now combing the county for the remaining suspects and bombs.
“They had planned to make 100 bombs and had already completed 89 as of Sept. 25, but after the [first] Odanliq raid, the police confiscated 62 bombs,” the source said.
“The security forces are now trying to capture the remaining five suspects and locate the other 27 bombs.”
According to the source, the second raid in Odanliq is likely to have taken place on Sept. 30 and the raid in Yingwusitang township, in which one suspect was killed, occurred on Oct. 11.
The source could not provide the dates of the two Tomosteng raids or information about which raids the other five suspects were killed in by police.
During the Yingwusitang township operation, authorities also shot and killed a father and his three teenage sons whose home the suspect had sought shelter in, the source said, adding that it was unclear whether the family had knowingly harbored the man.
All of the operations had been carried out by Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams around midnight or early in the morning, while the suspects were sleeping or holding prayers, the source said, and authorities had been issued orders to “only keep one or two alive for interrogation and to kill all the others on the spot.”
“Local police did not take part in these raids—they only pinpointed [for SWAT members] the houses where the suspects were believed hidden,” the source said, adding that the operations were “particularly violent.”
“Because of the language barrier [between Uyghurs and Han Chinese], neither the suspects nor the police understood each other. Any movement by the suspect was viewed as fighting back and led to shooting.”
The source said it was “absolutely possible” to capture all of the suspects alive during the raids, but the authorities “treated them as outsiders, not Chinese citizens.”
One police officer was accidentally shot by a fellow team member during one of the raids, the source said, but was in stable condition after being moved to a military hospital in Yengisheher (in Chinese, Shufu) county.
Memet Obul, ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary of Hankowruk village, where the first raid took place in Odanliq township, said that he had been stationed about 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the house where the men were hiding during the operation.
“The separatists caused the incident because they were hiding there and wouldn’t obey police orders to surrender,” he said.
“I heard that they had made bombs, though I don’t know what else they were involved in.”
Memet Obul said he was informed that three suspects—instead of five claimed by the source—had been killed and two captured during the raid.
Nur Eli, a police officer in Odanliq, said that he had seen “at least 100” SWAT team members and “many county police” at the site of the first raid after it had been conducted.
He said that “some suspects had been shot because they resisted arrest.”
Mansur Turdi, Party secretary of No. 2 village in Yingwusitang township, said that the man who owned the home that was raided on Oct. 11 was named Tursun Raziq, and that his sons were aged 12, 15 and 18.
Residents of Yarkand said that the county was crawling with security forces in the aftermath of the raids.
One woman from Odanliq township said she had heard that the heightened security was related to the action against a “group of suspects.”
“These days, the situation is totally different than before,” she said.
“Police are everywhere and no one is allowed to travel to neighboring villages.”
A teacher in Yarkand said that he had also heard about the raids, but added that the tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese would not be solved through police action.
“The security forces are more powerful than them [the separatist group]—they can kill all of them and their relatives and friends as well. But their goals and ideas still remain and will continue to spread until justice is served,” he said.
“This is not only my belief, it is the lesson of Uyghur history since Chinese occupancy.”
Chinese authorities usually blame outbreaks of violence in Xinjiang on "terrorists" among Uyghurs, but 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.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.