China on Sunday blamed an unprecedented “terrorist attack” by knife-wielding assailants at a railway station that killed 33 people and injured over 130 on Islamist militants from the volatile Xinjiang province and described the slashing rampage as the country’s 9/11.
It was a macabre night at the crowded Kunming railway station, the city known for its serenity, when a group of black-clad knife and sword-wielding attackers, including two women, mowed down people at random, sending shock waves across the nation which prides itself in its watertight security.
Police fatally shot four attackers, including a woman, during the mass knife-attack which went on for 25 minutes in Kunming, the capital of southwest Yunnan province. They are searching for at least five more attackers.
Over 10 “terrorist suspects” were involved in the last night’s attack, while left 33 people, including 29 civilians, dead and over 130 injured. Most of the victims sustained head injuries as the militants went on the stabbing spree.
One more female suspect has been arrested and is being treated in hospital for unspecified injuries. Reports said Chinese police captured an injured woman militant who was reportedly being interrogated to get more details.
Evidence at the crime scene showed that the attack was orchestrated by separatist forces from Xinjiang, home to the mostly-Muslim Uygur minority, the municipal government of Kunming said today.
TV footage showed police recovering swords carried by some of the assailants.
Nothing justifies civilian slaughter in China’s “9-11”, state-run Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on the last night’s dreadful attack.
“China was outraged and the world shocked after separatists from Xinjiang knifed down innocent civilians at a crowded train terminal in Kunming Saturday night,” it said.
“It was a typical terrorist attack and also a severe crime against humanity. It was China’s ‘9-11′”, it said.
It is the first time militants from the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from Xinjiang have been blamed for carrying out such a large-scale attack from
their remote homeland.
It follows an incident in Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square in October which shook the country’s Communist leadership, forcing them to establish a state committee to
ensure national security.
The attack came ahead of the commencement of China’s Parliament beginning from tomorrow, an annual political season that lasts about a fortnight.
Observers said the attack is a shock to the Chinese government as the militants chose a soft target like Kunming, which is far from tightly secured capital Beijing.
The banned ETIM, an alleged al-Qaeda linked group, is fighting for the independence of Xinjiang province, which is endowed with natural resources, including oil.
Last year three members of a family, including two women, tried to carry out an attack at the Forbidden city near the Tiananmen Square where the Parliament holds its session at the Great Hall of People. Five persons were killed in the attack.
The attacks point out that the ethnic conflict in Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and Afghanistan, is spilling over to mainland China.
Overseas Xinjiang groups allege severe repression by the Chinese security forces.
The province is witnessing violent ethnic conflict in recent years as ethnic Muslim Uygurs, who form over 45 per cent of the provincial population, resented the settlements of China’s Han majority.
Before the emergence of ETIM, the province witnessed several riots between the two communities.
Senior Chinese security official Meng Jianzhu, who rushed to Kunming last night on the directive of President Xi Jinping, pledged to harshly punish terrorists in accordance with the law to ensure social stability.
Meng, head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC, said the attack caused big losses to people’s lives.
The terrorists were devoid of conscience as they brutally attacked unarmed civilians and exposed their anti-humanity and anti-society nature. They should be harshly punished in accordance with the law, he said.
Xi, who is regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader in recent years as he headed, Presidency, CPC and the military, ordered authorities to firmly suppress terrorists’ rampant momentum, official media reported.
The President, who also heads recently formed China’s national security commission, asked law enforcement agencies to crackdown on violent terrorist activities in all forms,
Safeguard social stability and guarantee the safety of people’s lives and property.
A day after the attack, eyewitnesses recalled the horrific moment with Kunming resident Yang Haifei saying he was buying a ticket when he saw a group of people rushed into the station and started attacking people.
“I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone,” he said, adding that the attackers caught those who were slower. “They just fell on the ground.”
“At first I thought it was just someone fighting, but then I saw blood and heard people scream, and I just ran,” said Liu Chen, a 19-year-old student from Wuhan City of central China’s Hubei Province, who was visiting Yunnan.
The killing spree showed that terror attacks are spreading from Muslim Uygur Xinjiang to rest of the areas which makes it imperative to tighten security all across the
country, an official media report here said.
“If the Tiananmen car crash incident that happened in October 2013 marked the first sign that terrorism was starting to trickle into China’s central and eastern areas, this massacre can clarify that the eastward expansion of Xinjiang terrorism is accelerating,” a report in Global Times website said today.
The attack “signals and sets alarm for the rest of China, especially large cities, that terrorism has already crept in.
This new tendency pushes China’s anti-terrorism efforts into a much more severe and demanding situation,” it said.
“This means other cities and provinces, which were previously believed to be unlikely to be targeted by terrorism, must prepare for any possible attacks by terrorists,” the report said.
Xinjiang is not dealing with this issue alone any more. People must realise that a handful of extremists do not represent tens of millions of local residents in Xinjiang.
“It is not only an irrational and biased mindset to put the blame on the entire Uygur community or the Muslim world, but the idea will also abet and aid those separatists and terrorists who are desperate to take advantage of ethnic and religious conflicts,” it said.
China’s legislators and political advisors have expressed their support for an iron-fist crackdown on terrorism after the bloody killing spree.
“We should launch a nationwide campaign against such terrorist activities and resolutely fight the terrorists,” said Yin Zhuo, director of the Expert Consultation Committee of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Chen Shu, a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’ s top legislature, urged a “quick and harsh crackdown on the terrorist activists”.
“All countries should join hands to fight terrorist activities like this one,” he said.