Five ethnic minority Uyghurs, including two policemen, have been killed in connection with a raid on the home of a key suspect officials say had been behind plans to attack police stations in northwest China’s restive Xinjiang region.
The suspect, identified as Qeyser Qurban, 23, was also shot dead in the raid last month in Qumqusar township, in Kashgar prefecture’s Makit (in Chinese, Maigaiti) county, a police officer in Qumqusar told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He refused to provide details but local officials said the raid occurred at Qurban’s home in the township’s No. 6 village.
No. 6 village chief Memetimin Mamut, who was briefed by authorities on the incident, told RFA’s Uyghur Service he was informed by his superiors that Qurban was the mastermind behind “a group which was planning to carry out attacks on police stations.”
“Qeyser Qurban was captured on the morning of June 14 and had confessed to his crime,” Mamut said, and eight police officers had taken the suspect to his home to secure what they said were the materials and weapons the group had planned to use in their attacks.
“Six Han [Chinese] police stayed in the yard, while two Uyghur police entered the house with the suspect, at which point the police released his handcuffs so that he could gather the materials … such as knives, sickles, axes, and sticks.”
Mamut said that when the two policemen tried to photograph Qurban with the evidence laid out in front of him, the suspect attacked them with a knife from the nearby table.
“He stabbed one officer in the house and ran after the second as he tried to exit the house,” Mamut said.
“At that moment, the Han police in the yard opened fire on the suspect, but one of the several bullets hit the [Uyghur] police officer by mistake as he was escaping ahead of him. The stabbed police officer and the suspect died at the scene, and the officer who was mistakenly shot died on the way to the hospital.”
Mamut said he was unsure whether the items collected from Qurban’s home were really part of a plan to attack local police stations or if they were simply tools that the family used for farming, but his superiors subsequently issued a warrant for four additional suspects and ordered him to take part in additional raids and patrols.
Two other suspects were shot dead and another, identified as Enver Rozi, was detained subsequently, local officials said.
One suspect was shot dead four days after the raid on Qurban’s home while the other was killed on July 1—the second day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan—after he refused to surrender when he was surrounded, prompting authorities to open fire on him.
“The shooting has so negatively affected the public mood in our village, because it occurred during Ramadan,” Abbas Tursun, the chief of Qumqusar’s neighboring No. 2 village, told RFA on Sunday, adding that he had not been asked to assist in the operation, but had been informed about its result.
“I haven’t heard anyone say anything against the police, but all the faces and eyes of the people I meet these days say how they feel about the incident.”
Tursun said that police are currently searching for the fifth and final suspect.
A resident of Makit county, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA that there had been no report in the official media about the raid on Qursun’s home, “but a lot of stories about the incident are circulating among the public.”
He said that some residents believed that the Han policemen had unfairly sent their fellow Uyghur officers into harm’s way during the operation—an act they see as typical of a policy of discrimination in the region.
“One of the complaints about the incident is that the two police who died were Uyghur and that the Han police used them as a ‘shield’ during the operation,” the resident said.
“As a result of this, all [of the] victims who died in the incident—including the suspects—were Uyghur.”
Another resident who attended a memorial service for the two police officers complained that “most of the attendees … were gathered by official order and were there against their will, saying that the ceremony was not in line with our ethnic traditions and religious rules.”
RFA received a photo of the memorial service, which took place in the week following the raid on Qursun’s home, showing portraits of the police officers and a banner hung over a podium with the words: “Memorial Ceremony of the Two Heroes We Lost at the June 14 Incident in Makit County.”
The resident who attended the ceremony identified the police officer who was shot to death while fleeing Qursun as a man named Kurbanjan, saying he should not have been commemorated as a “hero.”
“Actually, he was killed while he was escaping and he was not killed by the suspect—he was killed by a fellow policeman mistakenly,” he said, adding that the public was never informed what punitive measures were taken against the officer who shot him, “but we not dare to ask about it.”
He called the Han policemen “selfish” for having put their fellow Uyghur officers into danger.
“The two Uyghur officers took part in the operation simply to keep their jobs. Furthermore, the Han officers, in order to remain safe, opened fire on the suspect indiscriminately, causing the death of Kurbanjan—their comrade,” he said.
“There were no heroes or patriots among the police in this case worth commemorating. They are only intensifying the communist and Han nationalist propaganda while they continue to restrict our regular religious activities.”
The raid on Qursun’s home follows several high-profile attacks blamed on militants in Xinjiang, the traditional home of the Uyghurs, who complain they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
Xinjiang authorities declared a one-year crackdown on “violent terrorist activities” following the May 22 bombing at a market in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi that killed 43 people, including the four attackers.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.