Sixteen policemen were killed when two terrorists drove a truck into an electricity pole and threw two home-made explosives on the cops in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, around 8 am yesterday.
Local security bureau officials said the group of 70 policemen were jogging during their regular morning drill in front of Yiquan Hotel, about 100 m from the border armed police division office, when they were attacked.
The attack in China's westernmost city, which is close to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, came just four days before the start of the Beijing Olympic Games, prompting security forces across the country to raise the level of alert.
Xinhua News Agency said the terrorists, identified as two Uygur men aged 28 and 33, hacked the injured policemen with knives, too. Fourteen policemen died on the spot and two on their way to hospital, and 16 were injured.
No civilians were killed or injured, however. The two attackers have been arrested.
Police said an arm of one of the attackers was blown off when he ignited a home-made explosive.
All the 16 injured cops were treated at Kashgar Prefectural People's Hospital. Four of them were in the ICU, while the rest were out of danger, according to hospital source.
Police found 10 home-made explosive devices, a home-made hand gun and four knives from the vehicle.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said in Beijing that the Chinese authorities were doing all they could to make the Games safe.
"We can't give you an immediate reaction," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. "But as far as the Games are concerned, we trust the authorities are doing everything humanly possible to ensure a safe and secure event."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Gonzales Gallegos condemned the attack, saying the United States was "saddened at the loss of life and injuries caused by the attack and extend our condolences to the victims and their families."
Investigators in Kashgar, an important city on the old Silk Road, later found debris of five explosives on the border police division compound.
People in Kashgar follow the "local time", which is two hours behind Beijing time, in their day-to-day dealings. So many guests at the Yiquan Hotel were still asleep and awakened by the deafening sound of the explosions.
The regional public security bureau said it had got information that the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was planning attacks between Aug 1 and 8 in a bid to disrupt the Beijing Games.
The Ministry of Public Security Monday said a probe had started into the attack.
The nature of the attack suggests a terrorist group like the ETIM is behind it, experts said. The UN and the US named the ETIM a terrorist organization in 2002.
"There's little doubt that the ETIM is behind the attack," Li Wei, director of the anti-terrorism research center of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said. The attack shows it is now into advanced planning because "it has rarely used cars or trucks in an attack before".
He, however, appealed to the public not to panic. "If it (the ETIM) was strong enough, it wouldn't have launched such an attack. It only wants to create panic among the public."
The country's defense and police commanders, including Ma Zhenchuan, chief of the Beijing public security bureau, have warned that the ETIM posed a threat to a safe Games because investigations show it had been planning attacks on Olympic venues.
Asked about his reaction to the attack, a Beijing Olympic organizing committee (BOCOG) official said at a news briefing that the BOCOG was confident of holding a safe Games with the support of the Chinese government and the international community.
"An effective command system has been set up, and we have strengthened cooperation in security work, including information exchange and anti-terrorism fight, with other countries," Sun Weide, a BOCOG media official, said.
"We have beefed up security in (and around) all Olympic venues and in the Olympic Village. We are well-prepared to deal with any eventuality."