3 'terror suspects' shot dead after Xinjiang manhunt

'Violent terror gang' linked to 2015 attack, says Beijing; unrest in Uighur area resumes

BEIJING • Chinese police have shot dead three "violent terror suspects" in the western Xinjiang region, the government said yesterday.

The incident is the Chinese government's latest clash with militants who, Beijing says, want to break the region away from China.

The shooting happened on Sunday following a manhunt for three suspected members of a "violent terror group" linked to an April 2015 attack in Pishan county, according to the regional government's official Tianshan website.

"We shot the thugs dead at the scene. There were no casualties on our side," the government report said. No details were given about the attack two years ago.

Security officers in the southern Xinjiang city of Hotan, once a Silk Road outpost considered part of the Uighur heartland, reportedly encountered violent resistance while pursuing three members of the "violent terror gang".

Beijing has blamed the unrest on militants. However, rights groups and exiles say anger at Chinese controls enforced on Uighur religion and culture is more to blame.

It was the second such incident in less than a fortnight. The Chinese government says separatists in Xinjiang, which is home to the Muslim Uighur minority, aim to form their own state called East Turkestan. The separatist group have links with militants abroad in Asia and the Middle East.

Hundreds of people have been killed in recent years in resource-rich Xinjiang, on the borders of central Asia and Pakistan, amid violence between Uighurs and ethnic majority Han Chinese.

Beijing has blamed the unrest on militants. However, rights groups and exiles say anger at Chinese controls enforced on Uighur religion and culture is more to blame. Still, China denies any repression.

Xinjiang had been generally quiet in recent months, with no major violence reported.

But last month, state media said attackers drove a vehicle into a Communist Party office in Hotan, setting off an explosive device and killing two people with knives before all three assailants were shot dead.

The government has delayed reporting some previous incidents in Xinjiang. Also, limits set on foreign journalists working there make it almost impossible to reach an independent assessment of the region's security.

An attack on a coal mine in September 2015, in which at least 16 people were killed, was not reported by the government for two months.

It then announced that its security forces had killed the 28 "terrorists" involved.

Beijing regularly accuses what it says are exiled Uighur separatist groups, such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, of being behind attacks in the region.

But some 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.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline '3 'terror suspects' shot dead after Xinjiang manhunt'. Print Edition | Subscribe