Two successive suicide bombing attacks have killed six people and injured four others at a security checkpoint station in northwestern China’s restive Xinjiang region, according to area police officials.
The attacks in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Lop (Luopu) county, occurred at 9 p.m. on Monday and 8:15 a.m. on tuesday, killing three suicide attackers and three police officers and wounding four other policemen, said Osman Toxtixelil, the police chief of the Konabazar (Old Town) police station in Lop town.
No bystanders were killed or injured in the attacks, he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“The first attack occurred at 9 p.m. [when] two police officers and one attacker were killed by an explosion from a bomb thrown by an attacker,” he said.
During the second incident, two attackers detonated explosives at the same checkpoint with bombs they had attached to their bodies, killing themselves and one police officer and injuring four other policemen, he said.
A police officer at Lop police information headquarters told RFA that officers Perhat Jan and Ablimit Qasim were among the policemen who were injured.
Other than that, he said, “The details of the incident and identities of the attackers and victims are not available.”
Although the security checkpoint is stationed in front of the town’s detention center and next to a birth control center, hospital and the county bazaar, the area did not contain many people other than police when the two bombs were detonated, Toxtixelil said.
“Those who man the checkpoint are primarily assigned to checking for ‘extremists’ who wear veils and have beards,” he said.
Chinese officials frequently describe Turkic-speaking Muslims from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as separatists and terrorists. They have restricted Uyghurs in some parts of the region from wearing burqas, head scarves, veils and beards.
Police are still uncertain as to whether the attackers selected the times of the blasts so that they would not harm any civilians or too many police officers, Toxtixelil said, adding that area’s residents are mainly Uyghurs.
Attackers were young Uyghurs
Memtimin Abla, deputy chief of police of the Lop county police department, told RFA that the three attackers were all from Dol township in Lop county and between the ages of 18 and 20.
The three attackers went to the checkpoint station on foot rather than by motorcycle or car unlike previous attackers, he said. They carried bombs, but had no knives or axes.
The police department called on the armed forces after the first attack, but did not expect another attack to occur at same station, he said.
One police car was partially damaged in the attacks, and the injuries sustained by the four officers were not critical, Abla said.
Police have detained more than 200 people, including relatives of the attackers, most of them from Dol township, who were in the county bazaar when the two attacks occurred, he said.
“It’s already clear that the two successive attacks were planned and organized, but the [identity of the] main mastermind behind the attacks and any links to other terrorist organizations are still unclear, because two attackers are dead and one is in the hospital,” Abla said, adding that an investigation was under way.
The attacks were likely politically motivated, he said.
“We can assume that they were trying to send a signal to our government about their anger over the restrictions placed on the wearing of veils and beards,” he said. “That is why they selected the checkpoint as their target of attack.”
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.
As the targets of these campaigns, Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression by China’s communist government.
Rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule there 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 Shohret Hoshur of RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.