Authorities in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region shot and killed two young Uyghur minority men who launched a crude bomb attack on a police patrol, sources said Thursday, and have ordered local residents to join a search for four others who fled the scene.
A young Uyghur woman who lives with her family in Zawa township, in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, told RFA’s Uyghur Service that the attack occurred “four or five days ago” in Zawa.
“I heard that several young men attacked a police patrol and two of them were shot dead on the spot by police, but four others fled,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The young woman said that the Qaraqash county public security bureau had posted photos of the four others and notices of their arrest warrants on local streets, and that an announcement of the news had been made on the county radio station.
“The streets are strictly controlled by the police. People still cannot move freely between the Qaraqash county bazaar and Zawa township,” she said.
“There are checkpoints everywhere, and most of the men in our township have been forced to help in searches for the four attackers who fled.”
A Uyghur man who runs a butcher shop at the Zawa bazaar confirmed the attack had taken place and that local men were being conscripted into search teams to find the suspects.
“The attack occurred in Zawa around midnight between Monday night and Tuesday morning, and involved six young Uyghur men,” said the butcher, who also declined to provide his name.
“Police shot two of them dead on the spot and the other four attackers fled. They are hiding somewhere within Zawa township. I heard that two of them are from Igiz’eriq village and the other two are from Bashaqchi and Toghiya villages.”
The butcher said that two of the suspects were named Abdurahman Abduhelil and Nebi Abdullah, according to notices posted by police, but said he was unable to remember the names of the other two. All four are between the ages of 20 and 26, the notices said.
“I heard that they used homemade bombs to attack the police patrol,” he said.
“The authorities didn’t inform us whether there were any police deaths or casualties.”
No information was provided about possible motives for the attack, he said, but exile groups have suggested that similar acts of violence are expressions of resistance to Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression by China’s communist government.
RFA was unable to reach staff at the Zawa government office or township police station to confirm the incident.
The butcher told RFA that after the attack, Qaraqash county and Zawa township authorities directed the police to search for the four suspects, while the Zawa township committee of China’s ruling Communist Party had ordered all men between the ages of 18 and 60 to join the operation.
Of Zawa’s 50,000-60,000 residents, township authorities had mobilized “most of the farmers and government staff” to take part in the search.
“They organized a people’s net to check everywhere, include farmland, forests, orchards, personal property and cornfields,” he said.
“The farmers’ wheat, corn and vegetables have been destroyed underfoot. The people don’t have time to engage in their agricultural labor—they have all been forced to take part in the hunt.”
The butcher said he had just finished his forced guard duty at a checkpoint on the main road in Zawa, which he had performed for each of the past four nights.
“If anyone refuses to help, they will be arrested for political disloyalty to the party and government, so I have been forced to join in the search operation and serve my duty as a night guard,” he said.
“I heard that dozens of farmers from Igiz’eriq village were detained because they refused to take part in the hunt,” said the butcher, adding that the search had mainly focused on the three villages police believe the attackers come from.
“I don’t know if the hiding suspects will be arrested or killed. Everyone knows that if the police discover any suspected attackers, they are authorized to shoot on sight.”
Hotbed of violence
Hotan prefecture in southwestern Xinjiang has been a hotbed of violent stabbing and shooting incidents between ethnic Uyghurs and Chinese security forces, with attacks coming amid a string of assaults and bombings across the region.
Two successive suicide bombings on May 11 and 12 at a security checkpoint station in Hotan’s Lop (Luopu) county killed three attackers and three police officers, and wounded four other policemen, according to local authorities, who said the incidents were likely “politically motivated.”
And sources recently told RFA that the ethnic Han Chinese head of Hotan’s Layqa township was stabbed to death earlier this month by a young Uyghur man, prompting a security clampdown in the area.
Rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Hotan and elsewhere in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.