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Pain lingers after Xinjiang terrorist attack

By Cui Jia | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-05 07:02

Authorities blame religious extremism and call for tighter security, reports Cui Jia in Lukqun township, Turpan

Public services have returned to normal a week after a police station in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region was attacked by terrorists on June 26.

But blackened bloodstains on the wall of the building remind people in Lukqun township, Turpan prefecture, of the nightmare they experienced.

The attack by a 16-member gang resulted in 35 deaths - two police officers, two assistant officers, 20 residents and 11 gang members.

It was the second-deadliest attack the region has witnessed. A riot that broke out in the regional capital, Urumqi, on July 5, 2009, killed 197 people.

Sixteen of the victims in the latest attack were Uygurs, according to police, who said the gang members had been brainwashed by religious extremists.

The region has been in the front line of the battle against separatists, extremists and terrorists. The authorities have intensified anti-terrorist efforts since April after a number of disturbances in regional centers such as Kashgar, Hotan and Turpan, according to Zhang Chunxian, Party chief of Xinjiang. The central government is determined to curb the attacks, which have two things in common: brutality and indiscriminate killings of innocent people.

When the violence broke out, Li Changqing, the head of Lukqun police station, was asleep on the second floor of the station, while four unarmed officers were on duty on the ground floor.

"Around 5:50 am, I heard a loud noise in the hallway and someone tried to open the door of my room. When I opened the door, I saw seven or eight masked men waving long knives and attacking every officer they could see," said Li, 37, from his hospital bed, where he is receiving treatment for deep lacerations to his back.

Brainwashing

Li and a number of other off-duty officers opened fire, causing the attackers to flee the building. Li said it was the first time he had shot anyone in the course of his 16-year police career.

He jumped for his life when the attackers set fire to the building and torched a number of police cars. Li said he witnessed one of the attackers decapitate a police officer and throw the head into the flames: "What's the point of me being alive after one of my officers died in such a horrible way? I want to fight these terrorists to my very last breath."

As the fire raged, the gang used three-wheeled motorcycles to drive to their next target, the township's government building, about 1 kilometer away on the same street.

"People were giving orders at the scene," said Li, who jumped onto a fire engine that had arrived at the station and began to pursue the men.

"I shot one of them in the leg on the way, but he still tried to attack me. They shouted extreme religious slogans before they died," he said.

Memetjon Nimar, 43, who owned the Unity hotel opposite the police station, was killed as he attempted to help the injured. He pleaded with the gang to stop, according to his brother, Ahmet.

"My brother tried to pull a man, who had blood streaming down his face, into the hotel, but was stopped by the attackers. He urged them to stop, but he was killed right in front of my eyes," said Ahmet, tears filling his eyes. "They wouldn't listen to my brother or anyone else. They've been brainwashed."

Adalathan Yiminiaz, 34, Memetjon's widow, is now faced with the prospect of raising four children on her own. Her stepson, who is in his 20s, was also wounded as he tried to help his father.

"I can't describe how much I hate them (the attackers). My family is destroyed and I cannot see any future," cried Adalathan Yiminiaz, holding her 3-year-old son.

After attacking the government building, the group continued its killing spree at a construction site for apartment blocks. The site's 61-year-old gatekeeper and his wife were killed at around 6:20 am, according to Qin Dayong, an onsite technician. Bloodstains on the ground clearly mark the spots where the elderly couple died.

Qin is one of just four workers to have stayed in Lukqun in the wake of the attacks, which claimed the lives of six of the 90-strong workforce, most of whom hail from Sichuan province. Some have gone home for good because they have been severely traumatized by the attack. "No one expected it and we didn't know how to protect ourselves," said Qin.

"In future, I will provide training for the workers and employ professional security guards. We all need to stand up to these terrorists. Fighting them benefits everyone," he added.

Qin said he was deeply appreciative of the help given by local people in the aftermath of the incident. "After I sent three people to the hospital, two Uygur strangers gave me a ride back home and comforted me along the way. A Uygur friend offered to keep me company and help me through the toughest time. Terrorists should not be defined by ethnicity, they are just terrorists."

Police chief Li said order had been restored within an hour of the attack starting. He asked residents to help local police guard the entrance to the scene of the bloodshed before a backup force arrived to preserve the site and round up any fugitives. "They (the locals) used their three-wheelers to make a roadblock. Without their help the evidence would not have been so well protected."

Increased security

"Since the riots on July 5, 2009, the scale of incidents in Xinjiang has become smaller, but more frequent and easier to carry out, which means the methods to combat these incidents must be updated," said Wang Zhiyong, deputy commissioner of Kashgar prefecture. Fifteen people - 10 Uygur, three Han and two Mongolians - including police officers and community workers, were killed by a gang in Selibuya township, in the prefecture, on April 23 this year.

Maintaining social stability is the work of grassroots organizations and they will have to be more effective to prevent acts of terrorism, said Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and one of China's top political advisors.

In addition to stepping up security in the large cities, villages and communities must be better equipped because they are at the front line of the fight against terror, said Meng Jianzhu, head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the CPC Central Committee.

Both Yu and Meng made their remarks after arriving in Urumqi at the weekend.

Many recent attacks in the region have occurred in townships and villages and have targeted local authorities.

Earlier this week, the Xinjiang public security bureau urged residents to report any information that could help solve terror cases. The bureau also published a wanted list, which included people suspected of carrying out two attacks in Hotan, including the murders of two school guards and several workers at a construction site.

The last fugitive from the Lukqun attack was captured on Sunday after a tip-off, local police said. Xinjiang police claim that Ahmetniaz Stek, the suspected leader of the gang, organized for members to view videos of extreme religious activity and has instigated several attacks since February. The gang originally has 17 members but one was arrested the day before the attack acting on a tip, according to Xinjiang police.

Police also found that a terrorist cell in Selibuya, allegedly led by a man called Kasmu Memet, was formed in September 2012. Group members regularly attended meetings organized by Kasmu, where they viewed and listened to material relating to religious extremism and terrorism.

They also undertook physical training and learned how to kill by watching footage of terrorist attacks. Police found knives, combat training material, illegal, extreme religious pamphlets, and three jihadist flags after the April 23 attack.

Religious extremism

The authorities said the spread of religious extremism is one of the factors contributing to the increasing number of attacks and have vowed to clamp down on it.

"Extremists are using religion as a cover to lure people into terror activities to achieve political goals. They misinterpret the Quran and fool people," said Abudurehep Tumniaz, head of the Xinjiang Islamic Institute and a well-respected religious leader, on Wednesday.

"The Quran clearly states that all people are as equal as the teeth of a comb and they all need to be respected, no matter which ethnic group they are from," he said. "Religious leaders around the region need to tell people the importance of the law and help them understand the spirit of Islam, which is based on peace and unity."

In Xinjiang, separatists love to recruit people in the name of religion and ethnicity because they are deceitful and find it easy to cover their true intentions, said Turgan Pida, director of the Xinjiang religious affairs bureau.

"More than 50 percent of Xinjiang's population is Muslim. By posing as religious people, separatists lure believers, especially young people, into their activities," he said.

In June, nine people received jail sentences for promoting ethnic hatred and discrimination on the Internet, and committing crimes prompted by religious extremism.

Development slowed

In addition to leaving people in fear and casting a shadow over their lives, attacks in Xinjiang have also affected the region's economic development. Every time attacks such as this occur, the speed of development will slow, added Turgan.

Yinruilin Hotel, which opened a year ago, was the first five-star hotel in Kashgar city. Following the attack in Selibuya, guest numbers have declined sharply, and on average only around 300 of the hotel's 1,531 rooms are occupied every day, according to the manager, Tang Dayu.

"Previous experience shows that business will gradually pick up after these attacks, but very slowly," he said. "Apart from these attacks, the city is actually very safe."

Wang, deputy commissioner of Kashgar said the number of tourists who visited the prefecture in June had fallen by more than 60 percent year-on-year because of the attacks.

In 2010, a special economic zone was established in the city, acting as a trade hub for Kashgar and neighboring countries, including Pakistan and Kazakhstan. A twin-tower building is being built in the zone to serve as a five-star hotel and provide duty free shopping.

"New investors to the city might be scared away by these isolated incidents because they don't know Xinjiang. The attacks will only affect society temporarily, but, as a special economic zone, Kashgar's potential is very promising," said Yuan Kaifang, head of the Shaanxi chamber of commerce in Kashgar, who has been running a business in the city since 1989.

"Some businessmen who left Xinjiang after the July 2009 riot told me they regretted their decision and have missed the best investment opportunities. Other businessmen have asked me if people still ride horses and camels to work in Kashgar," he said.

Contact the writer at cuijia@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 07/05/2013 page5)

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