HONG KONG—Chinese police used smoke to force open a flat in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang before shooting dead five ethnic Uyghurs inside who the official media said were planning a “holy war,” a witness to the incident has said.
“They threw a smoke bomb at the apartment. Then police got into the apartment and during this time one of the police was hurt by the one of the Uyghurs,” a neighbor and witness said.
“After this first injury, the police began to fire their guns. Five of the Uyghurs ended up dead. Women were also occupying the apartment at this time. All of these Uyghurs were young men and women,” the man, who asked to be identified only as Duan, said.
“They were only equipped with knives,” he said of the Uyghurs. “Now the situation is pretty peaceful in our neighborhood and normal. The police told us that they were terrorists.”
Now the situation is pretty peaceful in our neighborhood and normal. The police told us that they were terrorists."
On Tuesday, July 8, police in the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, raided an apartment where 15 Uyghurs—a distinct Muslim minority—were hiding, the official Xinhua news agency said. It said they had rushed out wielding knives and shouting “sacrifice for Allah.”
Police opened fire, killing five and injuring two, Xinhua said. The incident comes just weeks before the opening of the Beijing Olympics under extremely tight security.
“The injured were sent to hospital and the other nine people were captured,” it quoted a police officer as saying. “The suspects confessed they had all received training on the launching of a ‘holy war.’ Their aim was to kill Han people, the most populous ethnic group in China whom they took as heretics, and found their own state,” it said.
A Uyghur police officer, contacted by telephone, said only that the raid was “related to terrorist actions.” He said he didn’t know where the nine Uyghurs who were arrested or the two who were wounded were being held.
Another neighbor who asked to be identified as Li confirmed the five shooting deaths but downplayed its significance. “It was an ordinary robbery case. Let’s not exaggerate it,” he said, adding that he believed the use of deadly force was appropriate.
Another neighbor described the area as peaceful, with Uyghurs accounting for about 30 percent of the population of the building. “The environment is pretty good,” he said, adding that he had never witnessed tensions between Han Chinese and Uyghur residents.
A police officer also reported that Xinjiang police had recently stepped up their own security. “We have even been afraid to take a siesta,” he said. Asked if they were feared retaliation, he replied, “Yes.”
An officer on duty at the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau denied any knowledge of the incident.
“I cannot talk about these things,” the officer said. “I don’t know anything about it.” He then hung up the phone.
Dilxat Raxit, exiled spokesman of the World Uyghur Congress, sharply criticized the shootings.
“To shoot and kill has become a new method of cracking down on Uyghurs in China. We call on the United Nations to send international lawyers and give effective legal assistance to those Uyghurs in detention so that the truth can be known,” he said.
Uyghurs, like Tibetans, have a long history under Beijing’s heavy-handed rule-which has at times erupted in violence.
But exiled Uyghurs deny the existence of an organized terrorist campaign and say previous incidents have been fabricated or exaggerated to secure international support for a crackdown.
In March, Chinese authorities said they had broken up and arrested members of a group that were threatening to sabotage the Beijing Olympics.
China has waged a campaign over the last decade against what it says are violent separatists and Islamic extremists who aim to establish an independent state in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which shares a border with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Beijing took the position that Uyghur groups were connected with al-Qaeda and that one group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), was a “major component of the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden.” The ETIM has denied that charge.
Original reporting by RFA’s Mandarin, Cantonese, and Uyghur services. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.