BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese state television on Tuesday broadcast an interview with a police officer said to have shot five knife-wielding thugs who killed and injured scores of people in a railway station attack.
The unnamed officer, whose face was not shown, said it took him 15 seconds to shoot the five attackers, four of them fatally, during the assault on Saturday night in the south-western city of Kunming.
China has blamed separatists from its restive far-western region of Xinjiang - home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority - for killing 29 people and injuring 143 in what it describes as an act of terrorism, with state media dubbing it "China's 9-11".
The policeman, who leads a four-member emergency response team but was "the only one to carry an automatic rifle", arrived at the scene 10 minutes after the stabbing started, he told state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).
"Some people were being held on the ground and they were still stabbing them," he said.
Five of the attackers then turned towards him, he said.
He fired a warning shot, which they did not respond to, and then fired at the one closest to him, who was "in black clothes and veiled" and "held a knife about 60-70 centimetres" long.
"The other four did not back off and continued to run at me, with knives," he said in the interview. "I shot all of them.
"It probably took 15 seconds from firing the first shot to the moment when all five were shot and fell to the ground," he said.
"I think I saved many innocent civilians. I did right by the people of Kunming and I did right by using my gun," the policeman told CCTV.
The ministry of public security said that an eight-strong gang carried out the attack, four of whom were shot dead and one injured at the scene, with three other suspects captured on Monday.
Few further details were given by CCTV for what the team did between arriving at the station and the officer opening fire, or afterwards.
Some reports have said the entire incident lasted as long as 25 minutes. There was no explanation for the discrepancy.
The ministry of public security said that an eight-strong gang carried out the attack, with three other suspects captured on Monday. Four assailants were shot dead at the scene and one injured woman was detained, it said.
The Communist Party head of Yunnan province said on Tuesday that the woman had confessed, according to a news portal run by the national prosecuting authority.
Police maintained a prominent presence at Kunming station on Tuesday, with two riot vans next to the main plaza in front of the scene of the attack.
Armed guards were also on watch at the airport’s main entrances, and paramilitary police with riot shields patrolled the terminal building.
Police vans were parked at many of the city’s major junctions and officers patrolled the ground floor of Kunming’s Number One People’s Hospital, where casualties were still being treated. Witnesses have described how the attackers aimed for their victims’ heads and necks to achieve maximum casualties.
Separately, the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) strongly condemned the violence and its exiled president, Rebiya Kadeer, appealed to Beijing not to crack down on Uighurs.
The vast and resource-rich region of Xinjiang has for years been hit by occasional unrest which authorities blame on the Uighurs, arguing that China faces a violent separatist movement in the area motivated by religious extremism and linked to foreign terrorist groups.
Rights groups say the tensions are driven by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by majority Han Chinese, which have led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality. Beijing insists that its policies in the region have brought prosperity and higher living standards.
“At this time of heightened tensions, it is important the Chinese government deal with the incident rationally and not set about demonising the Uighur people as state enemies,” Ms Kadeer said in a statement.
The WUC said that it “unequivocally condemns the violence” and also expressed condolences to the victims and their families.
Once a wealthy businesswoman, Ms Kadeer fell out with the Chinese government and was jailed before being released in 2005 and moving to the United States, where she is based.
Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang dismissed the WUC as “an anti-China separatist organisation” that was “not qualified to represent Uighurs in China”.