Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET on 2013-12-30
Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang on Monday shot dead eight ethnic minority Uyghurs they said attacked a police station, calling them "terrorists" and "religious extremists."
The latest violence occurred in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county near the Silk Road city of Kashgar, official media reported.
Another Uyghur involved in the attack has been detained, according to the official website of the government of Xinjiang, where dozens of Uyghurs accused of terrorism have been shot dead in lightning raids in recent months in killings condemned by rights groups.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) group identified two of the Uyghurs killed as Yarkand county residents Osman Barat and Abdugheni Abdukadeer, citing local sources. He said two of the other young men were related.
"The nine terrorists attacked a police station at around 6:00 a.m. in Shache county," the official Tianshan Net news website reported.
"They wielded knives, threw explosives, and set police cars on fire," it said.
Tianshan Net said the police took "resolute measures" in killing the eight and arresting one, adding the case was under investigation.
An officer who answered the phone at the Yarkand county police department confirmed that those who died were ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs, many of whom chafe under Chinese rule in Xinjiang.
"[They were] Uyghurs," the officer said. "They were shot dead at the scene."
"We have stepped up [security patrols] since ... this morning," he added.
A Uyghur resident of Yarkand said the area around the police station had been sealed off after the shootings.
"A lot of police came this morning and started searching vehicles and stopping people for checks, very strict checks," he said.
"I think it's right for the authorities to crack down on this sort of attack," he added.
Authorities moved swiftly on Monday to brand the killings, the latest in a string of violent incidents to hit the region, as a premeditated attack by terrorists and religious extremists.
The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said the the nine "terrorists" had held meetings beginning last August at which they watched "terrorist videos ... and promoted religious extremism" before plotting the attack.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang called for international cooperation to battle terrorism.
"It demonstrates once again the anti-society and anti-human nature of [ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism]," Qin told a regular news briefing on Monday.
"They have caused serious damage to the nation, society, and the people," he said.
However, while official statements implied that those killed were religious extremists, it made no mention of the ethnicity of the men.
Officials with the Yarkand county government refused to comment when asked about the incident on Monday.
Local residents said police had stepped up security measures in Yarkand since the incident.
"They are checking people's ID cards, both [Han and Uyghurs]" a resident surnamed Song said. "They are checking at intersections and vehicles coming in and out of the county town."
"As for the rest of it, we're not allowed to spread rumors," he added. "This is a secret matter."
In recent months, dozens of Uyghurs accused of terrorism have been shot dead in lightning raids in Xinjiang, home to some 10 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs who say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination and oppressive religious controls under Beijing’s policies, blaming the problems partly on the influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against Uyghurs.
"It is a new tactic [used by Chinese law enforcement agencies] in the oppression of Uyghurs to shoot dead protesters and then say they were terrorists," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) group said on Monday.
"According to sources on the ground, the Uyghurs cannot bear China's humiliating and discriminatory policies any more," Raxit said.
"Now we have these protests, one after the other, in Kashgar which are put down with firearms," he said.
Earlier this month, police shot dead 14 Uyghurs in Kashgar prefecture's Konasheher (in Chinese, Shufu) county, styling the incident a legitimate response to a "terror attack."
However, local sources said six women and two teenagers were among the dead, and that the violence was triggered by a police officer lifting a Uyghur woman's veil.
Raxit said house-to-house security checks targeting Uyghur neighborhoods were responsible for frequent clashes between Uyghurs and police.
"These raids are too provocative, and they result in the Uyghurs fighting back," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese Service and Eset Sulaiman for the Uyghur Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.