UPDATED at 12:20 EST on 2016-09-19
A county police chief was killed and three officers are believed to have died in China’s restive region of Xinjiang on Sept. 10 when a bomb exploded in a house they were searching, local police told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The police were raiding homes in a village in Guma (In Chinese, Pishan) County of Hotan (Hetian) Prefecture when a bomb exploded in the basement of a house they were searching that belonged to a family suspected of radical behavior, police from neighboring districts told RFA.
“What I know is that Gheyret Mamut was leading a group of four officers in a house-to-house search of No.23 Village of Kokterek Township. The house they were searching belonged to a blacklisted family and there was nobody in the house,” said Turup Abbas, deputy chief of Guma County Police Department.
“When they entered the cellar at the center of the house, suddenly a bomb exploded, and Gheyret Mamut died on the spot. Three of the officers were heavily injured,” said Turup Abbas.
“I am not sure whether the three wounded policemen taken to the hospital are alive or dead. There has been no official announcement issued yet of a death toll,” he added.
A second police officer in Muji told RFA that Gheyret Mamut, 45, was “among the dead” and described the same sequence of events leading to the explosion.
“According to an oral announcement by our station chief, a group of police in Kokterek Township was conducting house-to-house searches in the village, and one or a bunch of homemade bombs exploded when they were checking the cellar of the house,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Don't spread rumors
A farmer from nearby No. 21 Village of Kokterek Township told RFA he attended a meeting early on Sunday at which the village Communist Party secretary discussed the explosion and urged villagers not to talk about it.
“We were just warned not to say much about the incident, to avoid spreading rumors, to advise youth not to challenge the government and to call the police if strangers appear in the village,” said the farmer.
“From the neighbors I heard that the police chief died in the cellar, and the three police officers were dead when they arrived at the hospital,” the farmer added.
Memet Eli, a police officer in Kokterek Township, said he did not know details about the explosion, but was familiar with the house where it took place and had interrogated a couple that lived there but did not remember their names.
“The house belonged to the owner of a fast-food restaurant in Guma County that is located in front of a teachers college,” he told RFA.
“I have gone there several times to bring him to the police station for interrogation. I only remember that he has a four-year-old child and that he and his wife were about 30 years old and were blacklisted because of signs of extremism in their life,” said Memet Eli.
The family’s fate and whereabouts were unknown.
The farmer from No. 21 Village said, however: “Some people are saying that there was no one in the house other than police when the bombs exploded, but other people say the owner and his friends were hiding in the cellar when the police entered.”
Meanwhile, an officer from Guma’s neighboring Qarghiliq (Yecheng) County said his district was “under an emergency situation now.”
“In order to prevent potential attacks or incidents, most of our officers are patrolling streets or guarding sensitive places like government buildings, or Han immigrant resident complexes,” said the officer.
Kokterek Township was the hometown of the perpetrators of a May 2014 bombing at a market in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi that killed 43 people, including the four attackers.
China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames Uyghur extremists for terrorist attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the explosion happened on Sept. 17. The explosion occurred on Sept. 10.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.