KASHGAR, China (AFP) — Chinese authorities moved Tuesday to keep a lid on further information about a bloody assault on police in Kashgar with a truck, explosives and machetes.
At the hotel directly across from the site of Monday’s raid, which killed 16 policemen, guests were told in the morning that the Internet had been shut off across the city, on police orders.
Police entered an AFP photographer’s hotel room and forced him to delete photos he had taken of the scene. Plainclothes police followed journalists as they moved around the city.
“We can’t talk about that. You must understand if we talk about it, the police will come and arrest us,” said a shopkeeper in Kashgar, a remote city in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, who declined to be named.
Nevertheless some independent information emerged outside of the uniform coverage in China’s state-run press, which was all based on reports from the official Xinhua news agency.
Foreign witnesses described a “sickening” scene that unfolded as two assailants drove a truck at a group of policemen who were out jogging, then attacked the officers with small explosives and machetes.
“My wife almost threw up and had to lie down afterward,” said Wlodzislaw Duch, a Polish tourist who watched the assault from his hotel room directly across the street from the scene.
The Xinhua news agency said the two, aged 28 and 33, were arrested immediately, and identified the men as members of the Muslim ethnic Uighur group, a Turkic-speaking people that have long chafed at Chinese rule of Xinjiang.
The state-controlled China Daily, the government’s main outlet to foreign audiences, said the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), listed by the UN as a terrorist organisation, was “likely” responsible.
“There is little doubt that the ETIM is behind the attack,” said Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, according to the paper.
The attack showed the ETIM is now “into advanced planning” since “it has rarely used cars or trucks in an attack before,” Li was quoted as saying.
China has repeatedly warned the ETIM was planning to stage attacks on the Beijing Olympics, which starts on Friday.
However Chinese authorities have not gone on the record to blame the ETIM for Monday’s attack, allowing only unofficial “experts” to be be used in the state-run press.
Beijing Olympic organisers said they did not know yet if there was a direct connection to the showpiece sporting event, but insisted the Games would not be threatened.
“There is always the risk to the security of the Bejing Olympics,” Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organising committee, told reporters.
“That is why we have drafted hundreds of security plans, and now we are prepared to deal with these kind of security threats. We can guarantee a safe and peaceful Olympic Games.”
Xinjiang, a vast area that borders Central Asia, has about 8.3 million Uighurs , and many are unhappy with what they say has been decades of repressive Communist Chinese rule.
Two short-lived East Turkestan republics emerged in Xinjiang in the 1930s and 1940s, at a time when central government control in China was weakened by civil war and Japanese invasion.
The exiled leader of China’s Uighur Muslims condemned the reported killings.
“We condemn all acts of violence,” Rebiya Kadeer said in Washington, where she has been living in exile since 2005 after spending six years in a Beijing prison.
"The Uighur people do not support acts that engender bloodshed.”