Apr 24, 2013

21 Dead in Clash with 'Gangsters' in Western China

At least 21 people were killed on Tuesday in fighting in far western China between security officers and “gangsters,” according to a propaganda bureau spokeswoman for the regional government of Xinjiang, where the conflict took place.

Six of those killed were gangsters, and eight more people in the gang were detained during the violence, according to accounts from the bureau and a report Wednesday on a regional news Web site, Tianshan. The other 15 killed were police officers and community watch workers or volunteers. They died after the large gang herded them at knife point into a house and set the building on fire, said the propaganda spokeswoman, who gave only her surname, Ms. Hou.

The death toll was the highest reported in violence in Xinjiang in many many months. Xinjiang is a vast western region that encompasses many ethnicities and landscapes, and violence flares on occasion in the regional capital, Urumqi, or along a belt of southern oases towns that are inhabited mostly by Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people who often complain about governance and discrimination by the ethnic Han, who rule China. Sometimes the violence is clearly rooted in ethnic conflict, and other times it involves criminal gangs or attacks by individuals or groups against state organizations.

Ms. Hou said all 14 of the assailants were of Uighur ethnicity, most of them from a village administered by the township of Selibuya. She said they had been influenced by “religious extremism” and had been plotting a “jihad” since the end of last year, though there was no evidence they were working with foreign forces.

Uighurs generally practice Sunni Islam, and Uighur exiles often criticize Chinese officials for saying violence in Xinjiang arises from religious extremism. In the past, officials in Xinjiang and Beijing have tried to blame a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for some acts of violence in the region, though several foreign scholars say the officials have presented little evidence to support their claims.

As with many such events in Xinjiang, details of the fighting on Tuesday remained murky even a full day after the violence had transpired. Some elements of the official accounts were bizarre.

The accounts called the assailants both “violent gangsters” and “suspected terrorists.” The violence took place in a village in Selibuya township under Bachu County, near the historic Silk Road oasis town of Kashgar, which is near the borders of Central Asian nations and Pakistan. The conflict began on Tuesday when a person called a local government office saying there was suspicious activity in a neighboring house. Three community watch workers went to check the house at around 1:30 p.m. and found people there with a large stockpile of knives measuring about 1.2 meters each, Ms. Hou said.

The workers called the police, but were then captured by the gang. Several police officers arrived with another group of community watch workers; only one of the officers was carrying a gun, Ms. Hou said. Those 12 people were unaware that the gangsters had already killed the three community workers who had initially arrived at the house, and they were in turn cornered in the building. The attackers then set the house on fire.

On the law enforcement side, six police officers and nine community watch workers died, Ms. Hou said. The Tianshan report said they were made up of 10 Uighurs, three Han and two Mongolians.

More security forces arrived at the scene and shot at the attackers, which resulted in the deaths of six of the gang members and the detention of another eight. None appeared to have fled.

Violence has occurred more frequently in Xinjiang ever since an eruption of rioting by Uighurs in Urumqi in 2009. Official news reports said nearly 200 people were killed, most of them Han, and many more were injured. Uighurs in the area say Han-dominated security forces then began a brutal crackdown, and Han went into the streets to seek revenge.

Source: New York Times


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