Chinese state media reports that a terrorist attack in Xinjiang has left dozens dead and wounded. Initial report in Xinhua noted only that “dozens of civilian casualties have been reported in a terror attack early Monday morning” in the Kashgar prefecture in western Xinjiang. A more detailed report issued later by Xinhua said that a knife-wielding mob attacked a police station and government buildings before moving to another township and attacking bystanders, wounding and injuring dozens. According to Xinhua, “dozens” of the attackers were shot dead by police. Over 30 cars were also vandalized, with six being set on fire.
South China Morning Post, citing sources in the area, said that 10 civilians had been killed, which another 13 injured in the attack. According to SCMP, 22 of the attackers had been killed by police forces, and another 41 arrested.
Xinhua strongly condemned the violence, and lauded the police action taken against the attackers. “Police shooting dead of the mobsters was decisive and well justified. It prevented more civilian casualties, from both Han and Uyghur ethnic groups,” a commentary said. A similar attack by knife-wielding assailants at a train station in Kunming killed 29 and injured over 100. Since then, China has stepped up firearms training for police forces to ensure a swifter response in the case of terrorist violence.
However, other sources had a far different picture of the events that took place on Monday. The Uyghur American Association alleged that there had been no mob of knife-wielding attackers. Instead, a statement from UAA said that Uyghur residents had gathered to protest “against Chinese security forces’ heavy-handed Ramadan crackdown.” UAA thus “suspects that the dozens of individuals labeled as ‘thugs’ and killed by police were in fact victims of extrajudicial killings” due to their role in the protests. UAA is calling for an open investigation into the incident.
With tight restrictions on reporting in Xinjiang, it is impossible to verify either of these narratives. Further complicating the situation, as Radio Free Asia reports, the Chinese government has cut off Internet access in the area, a common response to violence in Xinjiang.
Local government sources told Radio Free Asia that they suspect “pent-up frustrations” over tight restrictions during Ramadan were the driving force behind the riots. That suggests that the clash was neither a premeditated terrorist attack, as Xinhua claimed, nor a case of Chinese police firing at peaceful protestors. Instead, Monday’s incident seemed more reminiscent of the deadly 2009 riots in Urumqi, when clashes between Uyghurs and China’s majority Han ethnic group left over 200 dead.
The explanation of riots would also mesh with reports from Reuters that the violence has spread to Kashgar. Reuters cites a foreign tourist as saying he had seen large numbers of armed police entering the city on Wednesday, after he had seen a body outside a Kashgar mosque.
A previous version of this post erroneously said that the Kunming attacks had left over 100 dead. The Kunming attacks resulted in 29 deaths and over 100 injuries.