Chinese authorities in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang on Monday shot dead six people carrying "explosive devices" after they attacked police, state-run media reported.
The six "attackers" were killed by police in Kashgar Yengisheher (in Chinese, Shule) county, near the Silk Road city of Kashgar in the west of the region, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
It said the shootings happened after local residents saw a "suspect with an explosive device" at about 10:10 a.m. local time.
The report said the attackers were would-be suicide bombers.
It said the first person was shot dead after attacking police with an axe and trying to detonate the device they were carrying, while five more "attackers" converged on the area with "explosive devices attached to their bodies."
"They were killed by the police on the spot," Xinhua said, adding that no police or civilian casualties were reported.
It said a minibus "with explosive devices" was also found near the scene.
Repeated calls to county government offices and the police department rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Fear of further attacks
A Han Chinese business owner surnamed Li said the shootings took place in a commercial district near his shop.
"It was on Jiefang East and South and on Shengli North and South," Li said, adding that his household has stocked up on makeshift weapons and other equipment for fear of further attacks.
"We have clubs and fire extinguishers," he said. "My kid is in kindergarten, but they have closed already [for the day]."
A business owner on Shengli South Road surnamed Zhou said the entire district is now being patrolled by armed police and troops.
"That whole area is under police control, and nobody is allowed in there," she said. "I hadn't even opened up shop this morning, when someone came round and told me to close up."
"We are quite close to the Southern Xinjiang military command center here, and we are surrounded by armed police and soldiers on patrol," Zhou said.
"There aren't many people out on the streets," he added.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), said that while official media reports hadn't mentioned the ethnicity of the attackers, they were likely to be members of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, many of whom are unhappy with Chinese rule in Xinjiang.
"If these had been Han Chinese, they would have been detained and put through some kind of judicial process to determine the charges against them," Raxit said.
"But the authorities have a shoot-to-kill policy with Uyghurs, regardless of the situation," he said. "The people who were shot dead are likely to have been Uyghurs."
Raxit said local sources told the WUC that police had opened fire on a group of Uyghurs who had congregated at the scene, questioning the official version of events in which police stopped would-be suicide bombers by shooting them.
"In the past, they have shot at Uyghurs to suppress them, and later said that they were terrorists," Raxit said. "Our previous investigations have later revealed that there were women and children among them, who were trying to run away."
"These accounts of terrorist attacks are just an excuse concocted by the government for firing on Uyghurs," he said.
He said the WUC is pursuing further investigations into Monday's incident.
"But it's very hard to get any further information on this, because people are really afraid that they could lose their freedom if they are caught providing information," Raxit said.
Chinese president Xi Jinping last May launched a one-year anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang last May, which has seen an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
China has blamed the violence on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state in Xinjiang, which is home to millions of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs.
But rights groups including the WUC accuse the Chinese authorities of ethnically targeted violence in the form of police raids on Uyghur households, as well as tight restrictions on the practice of Islam, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.