In one of the deadliest acts of terror in China in recent memory, a group of ten knife-wielding assailants attacked passersby at the Kunming Railway Station in the southwest of the country on Saturday night, killing at least 29 and wounding another 130. Police also shot and killed four of the attackers and captured one more. The other five are on the run, according to reports. State broadcaster CCTV said two of the attackers were women, one of whom was killed by police and the other captured.
Local Kunming government officials say that evidence at the scene point to separatists from China’s restive Xinjiang region, in what is being called “an organized, premeditated violent terrorist attack.” China’s state media outlet Xinhua quotes domestic senior Chinese security official Meng Jianzhu as vowing to “severely punish” the attackers “according to law.” Those comments were later echoed by President Xi Jinping, who also heads China’s security commission. The Global Times reports that Xi has asked “law enforcement to crack down on violent terrorist activities in all forms.” It also notes that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his hope that “those responsible will be brought to justice.”
The attack follows an incident in Tiananmen Square last October, in which a man drove an SUV carrying his wife and mother into a crowd and set it on fire. That attack killed five people and injured 40, and profoundly shocked the nation. Beijing said that the attack was the work of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Speaking with The Diplomat last year, Uyghur American Association president Alim Seytoff rebuffed that claim, questioning whether the ETIM even existed. Uyghur rights groups in general have denied claims that Uyghur separatists are behind the recent violence.
Saturday’s attack comes ahead of the annual meeting of China’s parliament on Wednesday, a time when security is usually tightened. Chinese officials have had trouble containing violence in Xinjiang, where local Uyghurs chafe against the growing Han Chinese presence, religious repression and heavy-handed security. Until recently, however, incidents were largely confined to within Xinjiang itself. If the Kunming attack is linked to Xinjiang, it could represent an escalation in Beijing’s troubles with the region, with the violence now spreading to other parts of China. Kunming is in Yunnan province, which has not previously been associated with terror incidents.
Victims of the Kunming attack say the attackers, dressed in black, burst into the railway station and began slashing at people randomly. Photos show the blood-stained floor of the station strewn with luggage, and medical personnel treating the wounded. Some eyewitnesses said that the assailants were carrying multiple blades, while others reported the attackers stabbing their victims multiple times.
The regional government in Xinjiang announced last month that it would be doubling the police’s counterterrorism budget for 2014.