Mainland authorities have for the first time confirmed a “terrorist” attack in Xinjiang that occurred two months ago and reportedly killed up to 50 people.
A statement yesterday morning on an official social media account run by the Ministry of Public Security – and posted just hours after the deadly attacks in France – said police in the far-western region had successfully hunted down those responsible.
Previously, there had been no official reference to large-scale incident taking place in the Uygur homeland in September.
“On November 13, the black Friday, Paris was hit by the most serious terrorist attack in its history, with hundreds of casualties,” the ministry said in the post. “On the other side of the planet, China’s police force in Xinjiang, after hunting for 56 days, finally achieved a tremendous outcome.”
Several pictures accompanied the post. One shows uniformed policemen armed with rifles in a mountainous region lighting a campfire at night. Another showed what was described as a diary of an officer involved in the operation and which said all the wanted terrorists had been captured.
The ministry did not specify what triggered the manhunt, and the post was later deleted.
At least 50 people died and 50 others were injured when knife-wielding assailants descended on a coal mine operation in the central western county of Baicheng in Aksu prefecture on September 18, the US-based Radio Free Asia reported at the time. Most of the victims were migrant Han workers, it said, quoting three sources, a local official. Five police officers were among the dead.
An officer at a police station in Baicheng told the Sunday Morning Post the area had indeed suffered an attack on that day. Another officer at a separate station in Sayram town confirmed the incident but had no information on any ensuing operation. Wanted posters displayed in Baicheng suggested the attackers were ethnic Uygurs, all of whom apparently escaped into the craggy foothills of Tianshan, not far from China’s border with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, The New York Times reported last month.
A policeman at Toqsun town said several arrests had been made after the attack.
Dilxat Rexit, a spokesman for the World Uygur Congress, said an attack took place in Baicheng but it was the result of Beijing’s ethnic policies over the past six decades, according to an earlier Reuters report.
Overseas Uygur activists have long condemned Beijing’s ethnic and religious policies in the region as repressive, but the central government insists there is religious freedom and the perpetrators of violence are jihadists seeking independence.
Li Wei, director of the counterterrorism research centre at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the nation faced an increased terror threat but attacks like the one in Paris were unlikely.
“With the rise of ISIS and as more Chinese nationals are smuggled over the border to join it, China faces a bigger threat of terrorism,” Li said. “[But] it’s harder to obtain tools and China has a tighter control over terrorist activities,” Li said.