Chinese state media are reporting that there has been an explosion at a railroad station in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The explosion reportedly took place around 7 p.m. local time at Urumqi’s south railroad station, the largest train station in Xinjiang. According to witnesses cited in Chinese media, the explosion seemed to originate from luggage that had been left on the ground near the station exit. In response, Xinhua reported that all entrances to the station were closed and armed police are on the scene. Train service was suspended. As of 11 p.m. local time, Chinese media were reporting that the station has resumed normal operations. Passengers are reportedly being allowed back in, although armed police remain on the scene.
Photos purportedly of the scene posted by South China Morning Post appeared to show blood on the ground, but these pictures could not be verified. An early report on People’s Daily’s Chinese microblog said that “there were injured people,” and that ambulances were on the scene, but did not provide any figures. Xinhua and Chinese state media said that “the number of casualties remains unclear,” while the Wall Street Journal, citing local media reports, said at least 50 had been injured in the blast. Interestingly, many Chinese-language reports, including microblog postings from official Chinese media outlets, had been deleted as of Wednesday morning U.S. time.
[Update: China’s official news agency, Xinhua, is reporting that three people died in the attack, with 79 wounded. Xinhua is also officially calling the explosion part of a terrorist attack. In addition to the explosion itself, Xinhua is now reporting that “knife-wielding mobs slashed people” near the train station’s exit. In a separate article, President Xi Jinping called for China to resolutely fight back against terrorists and continue the battle against separatists.]
There are disturbing parallels to the March attack at a train station in Kunming, China. That attack, where a group of knife-wielding assailants killed 29 and injured over 120 people, was later linked to Xinjiang separatists. The attack sparked a new wave of concern about terrorists targeting Chinese civilians; previously, much of the violence linked to unrest in Xinjiang has been restricted to clashes between police forces and local.
The explosion in Urumqi comes just after President Xi Jinping’s visit to Xinjiang, where he stressed the importance of counterterrorism and fostering a sense of “ethnic unity” between the native Uyghur population and the rest of China. Xi’s visit to Xinjiang ended Wednesday, the same day the explosion occurred. In his remarks, Xi said that “the long-term stability of Xinjiang is vital to the whole country’s reform, development and stability; to the country’s unity, ethnic harmony and national security as well as to the great revival of the Chinese nation.”
The timing of the explosion is doubly sensitive as it comes just before the May 1 Labor Day holiday. During this mini-holiday, travel picks up across China, meaning the train station would be especially busy. According to People’s Daily, the Urumqi train station was expected to service 88,000 travelers between April 30 and May 3.
Expect the Chinese government to take the most recent explosion very seriously, especially if evidence emerges the explosion was deliberate. Stay tuned to The Diplomat for ongoing coverage.