URUMQI TRAIN STATION ATTACK IN APRIL 2014
In late April 2014, three people were killed, including the two attackers, and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack at Urumqi train station that took place as Chinese President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a visit in Xinjiang. Quoting police sources, Xinhua initially reported: "knife-wielding mobs slashed people" at an exit of the South Railway Station of Urumqi, and set off explosives but that report turned out to be exaggerated . Xi promised "decisive actions" against the "terrorists" behind the attack. [Source: Ben Blanchard, Reuters, April 30, 2014 \^/]
The attack was the first bomb attack in Urumqi in 17 years (Bombs on buses there killed nine people in 1997). Because it came on the eve of a two-day May Day holiday, a time of heavy travel in China, some speculated one of the targets may have been Xinjiang's growing tourism industry. The attack occurred soon after the arrival of a train from the mainly Han Chinese province of Sichuan, Xinhua said. "Everyone was running and hiding. I was terrified," Li Tianlin, a 53-year-old laborer told Reuters. "We are still afraid and don't dare go over to the train station." State media did not say if President Xi was anywhere near Urumqi at the time. [Source: Michael Martina, Reuters, May 1, 2014]
Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Pictures on China's Twitter-like Weibo site showed blood on suitcases and debris on the ground in front of the station. Many posts carrying the images were later removed by censors. Xinhua said the station re-opened at 9 p.m. (9.00 a.m. ET), around two hours after the attack, under heavy police presence. Four people were seriously wounded but were in stable condition. It was not clear if President Xi was still in Xinjiang at the time of the attack, at the end of his four-day visit to the region during which he stressed tough policing to fight "terrorists". \^/
The South China Morning Post reported: “About 50 people were injured by the explosion at Urumqi's southern railway station The Beijing News said, quoting local police. The explosion was centred around some luggage left on the ground between the station exit and a public bus stop, witnesses told Xinhua. The blast was powerful. A man at a nearby hotel said he thought it was an earthquake. “Police have cordoned off all entrances to the station square of the station and armed police have been deployed. A local resident working at a nearby hostel told the South China Morning Post that the blast took place at around 7pm outside the exit of the Urumqi south railway station, after a train from Chengdu arrived. The station is one of the three railway stations in Urumqi, and the largest in Xinjiang. One Weibo picture showed what appeared to be a small blast area near a police post, though it was unclear if there were any casualties in the photograph. [Source: South China Morning Post, April 30, 2014]
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian: “ State media said that blast took place just after 7pm, shortly after a train pulled in, hitting travellers as they streamed from a station exit. Initial reports suggested that attackers had also slashed at people with knives. Xinhua quoted police as saying two of the dead were suspected of the attack and had "long been involved in religious extremism". It named one as Sedirdin Sawut, a 39-year-old man from Xayar county, Aksu, in southern Xinjiang. The third fatality was described as an innocent civilian. Four of the wounded have serious injuries but are stable, Xinhua added. The official People's Daily newspaper's microblog said that the attackers had strapped bombs to their bodies. A 57-year-old survivor told the Associated Press that the blast had knocked her to the ground. "I saw I had shreds of flesh and blood in my hair and on my clothes. It was terrifying." [Source:Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 1, 2014]
China Blames Religious Extremists for the Urumqi Station Attack
The Chinese government said the Urumqi train station attack was carried out by two religious extremists, both of whom died in the blast. The Xinjiang regional government said on its official news website (www.ts.cn) that the two attackers who were killed had "long been influenced by extremist religious thought and participated in extremist religious activities". It identified one of them as Sedierding Shawuti, a 39-year-old man from Xayar county in Xinjiang's Aksu region. The man is a member of the Muslim Uyghur minority, judging by his name. It did not identify the other person. The third person who was killed was a bystander, the government said. [Source: Michael Martina, Reuters, May 1, 2014]
Michael Martina of Reuters wrote: “The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said earlier on its microblog that "two mobsters set off bombs on their bodies and died". But the newspaper did not call it a suicide bombing. The government called the attackers "terrorists", a term it uses to describe Islamist militants and separatists in Xinjiang.
There has been no claim of responsibility. Pan Zhiping, a retired expert on Central Asia at Xinjiang's Academy of Social Science, described the attack as well organized, saying it was timed to coincide with Xi's visit. "It is very clear that they are challenging the Chinese government," he said. "There was a time last year when they were targeting the public security bureau, the police stations and the troops. Now it's indiscriminate - terrorist activities are conducted in places where people gather the most."
Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch who follows developments in Xinjiang, called the attack "an unprecedented act of defiance from Uyghurs who oppose the Chinese state". "It's hugely significant and it's extremely politically embarrassing for Xi Jinping who has taken a very hard stance on the Xinjiang issue, and made a big show while visiting Xinjiang that Xinjiang is safe for the Han," he said. World Uyghur Congress spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, said that more than 100 Uyghurs had been detained since the attack, adding that Xi's visit was being used by the government an excuse to step up "armed repression" in Xinjiang.
Islamist Group Takes Credit for Urumqi Station Attack
Two weeks after the Urumqi train station attack, the Islamist militant group Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) claimed responsibility for the attack, the Site Monitoring service said. Site, which tracks Islamist militant statements, said TIP had released a 10-minute video in the Uyghur language showing the construction of a briefcase bomb it said was used in the station attack. "A fighter is shown placing the explosive material and shrapnel of bolts inside a box, then inserting the detonation device in a briefcase with the explosive, and leaving the trigger exposed in an outside pocket," Site said of the video. It said the video had been produced by the TIP's Islam Awazi Media Centre and posted on its website on 11 May. [Source: Reuters, May 14, 2014]
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "Some violent extremist terrorist groups have now emerged. They are colluding with foreign groups and are attempting violent activities in Xinjiang and other areas in China intended to destroy China's national policy and social stability...We hope that everyone can recognise the goal of these violent groups and support the Chinese government's will to crack down on all violent terrorist activities and preserve safety for people and society," she said.
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “A Xinhua article warned: "Separatists appear to be shifting their focus from symbols of the government – such as public security stations and police vehicles – to random, ordinary civilians, and operating in areas outside Xinjiang."Philip Potter, an expert on terrorism in China at the University of Michigan, said that a suicide bombing, if proved, would be a notable escalation. He added: "We are seeing a number of things that suggest there is a lot of capability on the side of the militants. I don't necessarily mean a large, dark, secret organisation; I don't necessarily mean it's co-ordinated. "It means that there is pent-up capability within the broader population. The fact you can execute an attack at a symbolically valuable moment means in some way you are holding capability in reserve." [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 1, 2014]
All of the three recent attacks were "much harder than jumping in the back of a pick-up truck in Khotan and stabbing police [as in previous incidents]," he noted. Potter added that he did not see evidence of operational ties with foreign groups, but warned of the potential dangers if Uyghur fighters who were involved with jihadist groups abroad came home. "The grievances are entirely about domestic Uyghur disgruntlement in China. The question is whether there are circumstances in which the international situation throws fuel on the fire," he said.
Xi Jinping and the Urumqi Station Attack
After the Urumqi train station attack, China's President Xi Jinping has ordered troops in Xinjiang to deliver a "crushing blow" to terrorism. The blast at the Urumqi South railway station came as Xi wrapped up a high-profile, four-day visit to the region that had focused on targeting extremism. It was the third major incident in seven months. A month later an even deadlier attack would occur at a large market in Urumqi. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 1, 2014 /*]
Following the Urumqi train station blast, the president declared: "The battle to combat violence and terrorism will not allow even a moment of slackness, and decisive actions must be taken to resolutely suppress the terrorists' rampant momentum." Xi said the battle against separatists would be "long-term, complicated and acute". In earlier comments from his trip, not reported until after the attack, Xi said China would deal a crushing blow to terrorists and deploy a "strike-first" strategy. Xinhua quoted Xi as saying: "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." Xi urged troops on Xinjiang to "strike crushing blows against violent terrorist forces and resolutely strike against terrorists who are swollen with arrogance...Resolutely crush the space for terrorist activities and contain the spreading trend of escalation." He also warned terrorists would be isolated "like rats scurrying across a street".[Source: Reuters, /*]
James Leibold, an expert on ethnicity in China at Melbourne's La Trobe University, told The Guardian the Urumqi attack was a clear sign that some Uyghurs felt marginalised and sought to "explicitly revoke participation within Xi Jinping's 'China dream'." He said that Xi and the party-state had "doubled-down on Xinjiang over the last year ... seeking to penetrate the party-state deeper into the lives of ordinary Uyghurs" through multiple measures including a "mass-line campaign" which has seen 70,000 officials sent to work in villages, intensified bilingual education and a deepening of economic reforms, as well as more pervasive public security. Leibold added: "Any potential spike in inter-ethnic violence does not pose a direct threat to Xi Jinping and party-state rule in China, but there is an increasing concern that the party-state's ethnic policies have failed ... Xi Jinping can ill afford to look soft, weak or unresponsive to the perception that Xinjiang and the Uyghurs might soil or reject the China dream." /*\
Impact of the Urumqi Train Station Attack
The day after the attack, Reuters reported: “dozens of police vans were parked around the station, while camouflaged police with assault rifles patrolled its entrance. Despite the security, the station was busy and appeared to be operating normally. [Source: Michael Martina, Reuters, May 1, 2014]
“Many Chinese took to the Weibo microblogging service to express anger and defiance at the station attack, including Hu Xijin, editor of the influential tabloid the Global Times, who wrote: "We will never be cowed by a handful of bad people." China's nervousness about militancy, especially Islamic militancy, has grown since a car burst into flames on the edge of Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, and 29 people were stabbed to death last month in the southwestern city of Kunming.” [Source: Ben Blanchard, Reuters, April 30, 2014 \^/]
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress exile group, told Reuters he feared the incident would lead to a new round of repression against Xinjiang's Uyghurs. "It's extremely worrying. No matter what happens, China first of all represses the Uyghurs, leading to many innocent Uyghurs being locked up...We can see from this that Xinjiang is in a period of turmoil, and such incidents could happen again at any time. This is the trend and it's directly related to Beijing's policies."
Urumqi Market Attack in May 2014 Kills 39 People
Almost three months after the Kunming attack and just three weeks after the Urumqi train station attack, 39 people were killed, along with four attackers, and 94 were wounded when assailants threw explosives and ploughed two off-road vehicles through a crowd at a market in Urumqi. The BBC reported: “Attackers in China's restive Xinjiang region have crashed two cars into shoppers at a market.. They also threw explosives during the attack in the regional capital Urumqi. The Ministry of Public Security called it a "violent terrorist incident". Pictures on Weibo microblogs appeared to show the attack taking place at one end of a busy market street lined with vegetable stalls. One of the two vehicles exploded.” [Source: BBC, May 23, 2014 /=/]
The Urumqi market attack was the deadliest ever in Xinjiang. Many of the 94 people wounded were elderly shoppers. Residents said the morning market, where the attack occurred, was predominantly frequented by Han Chinese customers, though many of the vendors were Uyghurs. A Han Chinese man, surnamed Zheng, said he had left the market just 20 minutes before the attack occurred. He said after he heard the blast, he rushed back to see plumes of black smoke rising into the sky and people running away. "How are people supposed to live life when you can't even go to buy vegetables? It's so terrible," he told Reuters. "I just got here, but if I had the means, I'd consider leaving Urumqi for someplace safer." [Source: Michael Martina, Reuters, May 23, 2014]
Initial state media reports said the attack was the work of a five-member terror group, including the assailants who died. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the attack laid bare the "anti-civilisation nature of the violent terrorists and deserves the condemnation of the world community and the Chinese people''. The World Uyghur Congress said the authorities in the Chinese capital Beijing should not increase the crackdown in Xinjiang. A spokesman told the BBC the violent incidents were a direct result of Beijing's policies in the region. /=/
"I saw people lying all over the place, it was a very bad sight, " one taxi driver was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. "How can they do this at a market where elderly people shop?" A British man who works for an English-language training company in China and makes regular visits to Urumqi told the BBC the area around where the attack took place was "very ethnically mixed, so the victims are likely to be both Han Chinese and Uyghur". He said: "Many elderly folk used the park, so the victims are likely to include many retirees. "The timing of the incident is interesting - Uyghurs typically use different time (rather than Beijing time), so an early morning attack may have seen fewer Uyghur on the street." [Source: Martin Yip BBC, May 21, 2014]
Eyewitness Accounts of the Urumqi Market Attack
A Weibo used identified as "Manga" who lived near the market where the attack took place told the BBC's Martin Yi: “I didn't go downstairs because I was scared. There was only me [at home]. I was worried for my safety...I heard the first two blasts, like a thunderstorm, and I thought it was one. Then there were another three to four explosions, and then smoke billowing, and everybody downstairs was running..The ambulances arrived immediately (in around 10 minutes), then a police car came. More ambulances, fire trucks and police cars arrived within 30 minutes. [Source: Martin Yip BBC, May 21, 2014 +++]
Fang Shaoying, the owner of a small supermarket near the scene of the attack, told Associated Press: "I heard four or five explosions. I was very scared. I saw three or four people lying on the ground." Another eyewitness on Weibo quoted by the AFP agency said they were less than 100 meters away from the scene at the time and that "several powerful explosions" had taken place at the morning market in the front of the city's Palace of Culture. "I saw flames and thick black smoke. The vehicles and the stalls were on fire while the salesmen fled in all directions, leaving their goods behind them." +++
Other local residents contacted by Reuters agency said they saw the aftermath of the blasts. "The air was full of the smell of gunpowder and the sound of sobbing," one said. "There were simply too many (casualties), old folks who were at the morning market," he added. "There were two vehicles that drove like crazy towards the morning market," another said. "The market was total chaos. Hawkers and shoppers started running everywhere... it was definitely a terrorist act. I'm so angry." +++
China Says Five Suicide Bombers Carried out Urumqi Market Attack
Two days after the Urumqi market attack, Chinese state media said five suicide bombers carried it out. "Five suspects who participated in the violent terrorist attack blew themselves up," the Global Times, a tabloid run by the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, reported. The newspaper said authorities "are investigating whether there were other accomplices"."Judging from the many terrorist attacks that have taken place and the relevant perpetrators, they have received support from terrorist groups outside China's borders as well as religious extremist propaganda spread via the internet," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. [Source: Michael Martina, Reuters, May 23, 2014]
No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Pan Zhiping, a retired expert on Central Asia at Xinjiang's Academy of Social Science, said the "terrorists" received training overseas from groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and gained combat experience in Syria. "They are now definitely organized and these small organizations are very tight," Pan said. "If it's not possible to crack a small organization, then I think this kind of thing will continue to happen." Exiles and many rights groups say the real cause of the unrest in Xinjiang is China's heavy-handed policies, including curbs on Islam and the culture and language of ethnic Uyghurs, Turkic speaking Muslim people.
Chinese police blamed the ETIM for the Urumqi train station attack, the first time the separatists have been directly linked to the assault. "It looks like (the Chinese authorities) have a metastasizing domestic terrorism problem," Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert with the Brookings Institution, told Reuters. "I think the evidence suggests to date that if anything, the rethink (on Xinjiang policy) will be to get tougher."
Impact of the Uyghur Tiananmen Attack
The Urumqi bombings represented "a chilling new chapter" in relations between the two ethnic groups, Allen R. Carlson, an associate professor in government at Cornell University, argued in a recent essay. "The demands within the country for retribution and revenge are growing with each attack and are sure to reach a new pitch in the coming days," he wrote. Writing in the Xinjiang Daily newspaper, Abdulitiv Abdiryim, a senior Communist Party member in the region, said the attacks were the work of "lunatics without humanity". [Source: Tom Phillips and Malcolm Moore, The Telegraph, May 27, 2014]
James Leibold, an expert on Beijing’s ethnic policies from La Trobe University in Melbourne, told The Telegraph that China’s leaders appeared to have been caught off guard by the upsurge in violence and were now battling to regain public confidence. “Clearly they are rattled,” he said. “The thing that they fear the most — the party, Xi — is not Uyghur separatists or terrorists per se — it’s losing the confidence of the Han majority. Ultimately, the party’s number one priority is to stay in power and that is the thing that could result in a change of regime. So they do have to look like they are responding and you are seeing it everywhere.” [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, July 20, 2014 /=]
See “People’s War” on Terrorism Under Combating Terrorism in Xinjiang
Urumqi and Kunming Attacks Show Bolder Terror Threat in China
Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: “Deadly attacks in China blamed on Islamic extremists are getting bolder and bloodier, targeting civilians rather than the authorities and further challenging Beijing's ability to stop them. While these attacks are still relatively crude and bear little sign of specialized training, they seem to have an audaciousness and deliberateness that wasn't present before, said Andrew Small, an expert on China and Central Asia at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, D.C. "The capacity of groups inside China to mount effective, politically targeted attacks does seem to be growing," Small said. "It's a step beyond the sort of localized incidents in western Xinjiang that were taking off a few years ago." [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, May 2, 2014 *]
Raffaello Pantucci, London-based senior research fellow at Royal United Services Institute, told Associated Press the fact that the attack took place in a relatively secure major city was also significant. "The nature of this attack and its location is a further demonstration of the growing intensity of the problems," Pantucci said. For years, militants in Xinjiang have carried out attacks on police and government officials using knives, vehicles and homemade explosives. The extremists want to overthrow Chinese rule while many others want greater autonomy and freedom to practice their culture and religion. *\
“Uyghur activists say the violence is being fueled by restrictive and discriminatory policies and practices directed at Uyghurs and a sense that the benefits of economic growth have largely accrued to Chinese migrants while excluding Uyghurs. The knowledge that Muslims elsewhere are rising up against their governments also seems to be contributing to the increased militancy. China's response has generally been to crack down ruthlessly on the one hand, while promising economic benefits on the other. *\
“The most recent attacks deviate from previous ones in that they are increasingly targeting civilians and attempting violence on a larger scale, apparently pointing to a greater level of organization and planning. Such attacks are designed to "instill fear by sheer randomness" and provoke retaliation from Beijing that would boost resentment among Uyghurs and further support for the extremists, said Ahmed A.S. Hashim, a terrorism expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technical University. *\
“China's ability to gather useful intelligence and analyze it to prevent attacks has long been criticized as weak, Hashim said, adding that security forces also lacked effectiveness. "A purely military counterinsurgency or counter-terrorism campaign may not suffice if movement isn't made on the political front to assuage Uyghur political demands," Hashim said. It isn't clear whether the recent incidents of violence are being directed by some sort of larger organization, as Beijing frequently alleges. China has blamed numerous incidents on overseas-based separatist radicals in the East Turkistan Islamic Organization, although it has presented little evidence. *\
"The big unknown is whether there is now a higher level of coordination taking place, or whether these are just individual groups employing similar methods," Small said. Hashim said he expects to see a further evolution of the Uyghur insurgency, possibly into a more sophisticated form that would include the use of improvised explosive devices, car bombs, ambushes and major attacks on infrastructure. The point, he said, would be to "undermine China's showcasing of Xinjiang as a developing region where different ethnic groups live in harmony." *\
“A further concern for Beijing is the effect the U.S. withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan will have on Xinjiang's security. Instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where some Uyghurs are reportedly hiding among jihadi groups in the lawless northwest, could allow insurgents greater freedom to set up camps and cross the border into China, Small said.Government adviser and anti-terrorism researcher Li Wei agreed that change and instability in the fragile states along China's periphery had a direct effect on Xinjiang's security.” *\
Eight Sentenced to Death over Urumqi Attacks
In December, 2014, a Chinese court has sentenced eight people for their involvement in the two attacks in Urumqi that left 46 people dead. The Urumqi intermediate people’s court also handed out suspended death sentences to five other people, China Central Television (CCTV) said, without mentioning when the trials were held. CCTV said two men were sentenced to death for the train attack. The defendants said they had been instructed by a man outside China to carry out the attack. CCTV said the man was connected to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. [Source: Associated Press, December 8, 2104]
The other six were presumably connected to the Urumqi market attack. Initial state media reports said the attack was the work of a five-member terror group, including the assailants who died. However, CCTV said that six people were sentenced to death on charges of terrorism, use of explosives and endangering public safety. Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said the harsh sentences were politically motivated and the defendants had no chance of a fair trial. “China will never seek the root causes in its extreme policies,” he said.
Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated July 2015