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Seeing horror of terror attacks made things very clear for me

By Cui Jia | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2019-12-10 08:54

On May 22, 2014, I was awakened by a sound like firecrackers, followed by loud sirens from the road in front of an apartment I rented in Urumqi while stationed at China Daily's bureau in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

I stepped onto the balcony, with its perfect view of the regional capital's landmark Red Mountain, and saw police vehicles, fire engines and ambulances whooshing by one after another. I knew something was wrong.

I had at least a dozen missed calls and messages on my cellphone. "Something big happened," one message simply read. The expression is what Xinjiang people call terrorist attacks.

Something big had happened less than a kilometer away, and I discovered that the popping I had heard wasn't firecrackers but explosives that terrorists had detonated at a market packed with elderly shoppers.

When I ran to the market, I found the area was already sealed off by police. An elderly woman who had just been evacuated was still shaking. She told me that two vehicles were driven at high speed as explosives were thrown and detonated among the crowd.

When I asked if she needed any medical aid, she said she wanted to stay near the police line because she couldn't find her friend, who had also been shopping for vegetables. I later found out that her friend had been killed in the attack.

The death toll from the attack was 43, including four attackers who belonged to a cell of religious extremists, which had been planning for some time to do something that would create a big impact.

During my stay, I found that Xinjiang people love to have a good time, often enjoying the best barbecue in China and local beers at night markets. So when night markets were closed around the region over security concerns after the attack, you knew the situation was serious.

Without being there, it would be difficult to understand the kind of fear created by terrorist attacks and how people's lives were affected.

For a time, the news regularly carried accounts of attacks in the region or in other parts of China perpetrated by terrorists from the region. One common reaction was that Xinjiang people must be really tough to live with the constant violence. My reaction was that Xinjiang is their home, so what else can they do? Just imagine the constant fear of another attack at any time at the market, on the way home or even at school. No one deserves to live like that.

A friend who is a police officer in Urumqi gave me a stab-resistant vest as a gift. He also constantly reminded me to remain alert about my surroundings. "You never know," he said.

Before visiting Xinjiang, my friends always asked if it was safe to go. They wouldn't have asked that about anywhere else in China. Memories still haunt me after covering several terrorist attacks and seeing the horrific results.

I remember talking to a young Uygur police officer who had been stabbed in the head by a terrorist who had been his childhood best friend. "He is like a monster," he paused. "No, he is a monster," he said a few seconds later, with tears in his eyes.

An expert told me that what was happening was that religious extremism-often the ideological foundation of terrorism-can turn people into killing machines. The process is very simple: Use religion to isolate people from society, create ethnic hatred and persuade them to kill nonbelievers, allowing them supposedly to gain entrance to heaven themselves.

It was really sad to see how many of the attackers were teenagers or young adults who could be easily manipulated, without having any idea about what true religion is.

Soon after the market attack, the regional government introduced a series of measures to root out religious extremism and fight terrorism. It also was determined to prevent terrorist attacks from spreading beyond the region to make sure people like you and me don't become victims of terrorism.

For the past three years, that "something big" hasn't happened in Xinjiang. It's a great achievement, considering that terrorists, separatists and extremists plotted and had carried out several thousand acts of terrorism in Xinjiang since the 1990s.

Now, the night markets have reopened and are packed. My friends have stopped asking me if it's safe to visit the region. We should stand with the Xinjiang people against terrorism because peace benefits everyone.



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