China says 28 members of militant group killed after coal mine attack

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese police shot dead 28 members of a "terrorist group" in the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang, state media said on Friday (Nov 20), citing the police.

The killings took place over the course of a 56-day manhunt following an attack on a colliery in Aksu in September that left 16 people dead, said the Xinjiang regional government's Tianshan web portal.

One "thug" surrendered, it added.

Xinjiang, the homeland of the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, is often hit by unrest and China has launched a police crackdown on separatist "terrorists" it says are behind the violence.

Many Uighurs complain of discrimination and controls on their culture and religion.

Friday's official reports come after Radio Free Asia (RFA), which is funded by the US government, said that more than 50 people including five police were killed in a knife attack at a colliery in Aksu in September.

The assailants targeted security guards, the mine owner's house, and a workers' dormitory, it said.

Earlier this week RFA cited government and local sources as saying 17 suspects including seven women and children had been killed by authorities, and that a rapidly deleted public security ministry statement described the operation as a "great victory in the war on terror".

The Tianshan portal said police mobilised around 10,000 people of "various ethnic groups" to help in the search for the coal mine attackers.

It showed pictures of helicopters that were deployed in the hunt. "Mobsters" were shot dead during several "round-up battles", the last of them on Nov 12, it said.

The assault on the colliery was "a violent terrorist attack under the direct command of an overseas extremist organisation", it said.

It was carried out by a "violent terrorist group" headed by two people with apparently Uighur names, according to the report.

"Terrorism is the common enemy of mankind," it added.

Beijing regularly accuses what it says are exiled Uighur separatist groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement of being behind attacks in Xinjiang, which has seen a wave of deadly unrest.

But overseas experts doubt the strength of the groups and their links to global terrorism, with some saying China exaggerates the threat to justify tough security measures in the resource-rich region.