Police shoot dead 'several terrorists' in China's Xinjiang

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese authorities shot dead "several terrorists" during an "attack" in Xinjiang on Friday, state media said, the latest violent incident in the restive far-west region home to mostly Muslim ethnic minority Uighurs.

"Several terrorists were shot dead by police during a terrorist attack on Friday afternoon," the Xinhua news agency said.

The group in Aksu prefecture's Wushi county sought to carry out a suicide attack against a group of police officers near a park preparing to begin a routine patrol, it said, adding that the would-be bombers rode motorbikes and cars carrying LNG cylinders.

Xinjiang police and information officers reached by phone declined to comment to AFP. Wushi government and police officials could not be reached.

Aksu, in the far west of Xinjiang near the border with Kyrgyzstan, was the scene of triple explosions in late January that killed at least three people, according to a Xinjiang government website. Police shot dead six people soon afterward.

Xinhua, citing a police investigation, described the blasts as "organised, premeditated terrorist attacks".

The vast region has for years been hit by occasional unrest carried out by Uighurs, which rights groups say is driven by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by Han Chinese.

Authorities routinely attribute such incidents to "terrorists", and argue that China faces a violent separatist movement in the area motivated by religious extremism and linked to foreign terrorist groups.

"Terrorist attacks" totalled 190 in 2012, "increasing by a significant margin from 2011", Xinhua said, citing regional authorities.

But experts question the strength of any resistance movement, and information in the area is hard to independently verify.

The most serious recent incident took place in the Turpan last June, leaving at least 35 people dead.

In October, three family members from Xinjiang died when they drove a car into crowds of tourists on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state, killing two, before the vehicle burst into flames, according to authorities.

China's top security official Meng Jianzhu said days later that the attackers had "behind-the-scenes supporters" belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) based outside the country.

The United States and the United Nations both categorised ETIM as a terrorist organisation in 2002, during a period of increased US-Chinese cooperation following the September 11 attacks in the US.

But the group's strength and links to global terrorism are murky, and some experts say China exaggerates its threat to justify tough security measures in Xinjiang.

Last month police arrested the prominent Beijing-based Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, a rare outspoken critic of the government's policies toward the ethnic group, accusing him of being involved in separatist activities.

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