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Grenade attack kills 16 policemen in China PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 August 2008

Sixteen policemen have been killed and sixteen more injured in an attack on a police station in far western China, in what appears to be the country’s worst terrorist incident in a decade, reports AFP.

The attack, on a border police office in the city of Kashgar in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang region, is a grave blow against the Chinese security forces just four days before the opening of the Beijing Olympics.

Chinese leaders have identified Muslim separatists from the remote, desert region as the biggest threat to the security of the Games.

Details were still sketchy this morning, but according to the state Xinhua news agency, two attackers drove one or two lorries into a police station in the far western city of Kashgar, an oasis town on the ancient Silk Road. The building was a station of the border patrol armed police division, which is responsible for the nearby borders with Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. In some reports it was unclear whether the attack occurred in the city of Kashgar or in the broad administrative region of which it is the capital.

The attackers were arrested at about 8am local time and were not immediately identified. Shadowy separatist organisations, which seek to establish an independent state of East Turkistan, have operated for decades in Xinjiang, where the majority of Muslim Uighur people live alongside increasing numbers of Han Chinese immigrants from the east of China.
The last unambiguous attacks by Uighur separatists were in 1997 and 1998 when they carried out a series of attacks on buses, police stations, military installations, prisons and political leaders. After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the US supported Beijing in having the East Turkistan Islamic Movement listed as a terror organization by the United Nations.

China says that in this year alone it has arrested 82 people for terrorist activity, including plots to kidnap Olympic athletes and an attempt to set off a bomb on a domestic flight. But it has been unclear whether these were serious terrorist threats or an effort by the Chinese authorities to justify the intense security measures imposed on the country during the Olympics.

Either way this morning’s attack represents a drastic and unambiguous escalation of a formerly murky conflict, and a blow to the safe image of China after a year which has already seen violent protests in Tibet in March and the devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province in May.

Senior Colonel Tian Yixiang, the Chinese military officer in charge of Olympic security, said last week that "East Turkistan terrorist groups" represented the greatest threat to the Games, ahead of Tibetan separatists and the religious group, Falun Gong. But on the same day a vice governor of Xinjiang, Kuerxi Maihesuti, pooh-poohed the threat.

“We see that these terrorist groups are not that capable of instigating massive sabotage activities, as some hostile forces have hoped to see,” he said. “If there had been such major incidents, no government could cover them up because the media would release the information very quickly. There are only a very small number of sabotage activities in Xinjiang and many were nipped in the bud.”

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