Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2013
State media on Monday released the identities of the victims of last week’s deadly ethnic confrontation in western Xinjiang region, as authorities indicated that they had made more arrests and uncovered evidence further linking the violence to terrorism.
The clash last Tuesday between police and Uighur residents on the outskirts of Kashgar left 21 people dead, including 15 police and neighborhood security officers whose names and photos were made public by CCTV. The identities of the remaining six, described as “mobsters” by government media, were not disclosed and presumed to be Uighurs.
Xinjiang has a history of violence between the dominant ethnic Han Chinese and the Uighurs, a Muslim minority who speak a Turkic language. In 2009 about 200 people died in rioting in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.
Details of the latest incident have been sketchy. A Chinese government website said last week that three community officers tried to confiscate knives from a family at a house in Bachu County, but that they were ambushed by mobsters and taken hostage. There was a gun battle after police arrived, and the house was burned down.
A subsequent report in China Daily, a state-run newspaper, said that the three community workers alerted police after they noticed a group of people watching videos of terror activities. Six people were killed and eight were arrested.
On Monday, Meng Hongwei, head of the National Anti-terrorism Office, told CCTV that police had made additional arrests, without specifying the number. Meng said they confiscated homemade explosives and other weapons, and also found flags of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement, a group that opposes Chinese rule of Xinjiang. No photos of weapons or flags were released.
The photos of the 15 victims showed 10 were ethnic Uighurs. “The terrorists in this case killed both law enforcement officials and innocent civilians,” Meng was quoted as saying. “They killed indiscriminately no matter it was male or female, no matter what ethnicity the victim was.”
Accounts from Uighurs near the scene told a different story, according to reports from British and Japanese journalists who visited Bachu County. Local Uighurs said the incident involved a family, not terrorists, that was upset over restrictions of certain religious practices, such as women wearing veils and men beards.
A spokesman for the exiled World Uighur Congress has said that police triggered the violence by shooting a young Uighur during an illegal search of homes.