China’s state media reported Tuesday that dozens of people have been killed in the western province of Xinjiang, where police and Muslim Uighurs have clashed increasingly over the last half year.
China’s Xinhua news service reported that a “gang armed with knives attacked a police station and government offices” in two townships of Shanche County, Kashgar Prefecture, “attacking civilians and smashing vehicles.” Xinhua said the attackers had killed or wounded dozens of civilians in the attack Monday morning.
The news service added that “police officers at the scene shot dead dozens of members of the mob” but it provided no details of their identities.
Given the challenges that reporters and sources face in Xinjiang, it was difficult late Tuesday to verify reports of the latest violence there. It was also unclear why Chinese authorities waited until Tuesday night to report the clashes, which came after the BBC and some other news outlets reported details of an attack, although with no mention of high civilian casualties.
Turkic-speaking Uighurs in Xinjiang have long resented and occasionally lashed out against Chinese rule in their remote part of the country. Some dissidents say they merely want better treatment from Chinese authorities and that they’re being persecuted for peacefully voicing their grievances.
But there are also indications that groups of Uighurs are organizing for attacks on police and civilians. In May, Chinese state media reported terrorists crashing cars and setting off explosives in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, killing at least 31 people and injuring 94. A month earlier, state media reported a suicide attack at an Urumqi train station, which killed at least 30 people and injured more than 90.
In late February, a gang knifed scores of people at a train station in Kunming, far away from Xinjiang, causing 33 deaths. State media later described the terrorists as Xinjiang militants.
Xinjiang, a largely parched desert region that borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, is home to more than 10 million Uighurs (sometimes spelled “Uyghurs”). In recent decades, they’ve become greatly outnumbered by Han Chinese, many of whom have migrated to Xinjiang to work in the region’s expanding energy, mining and agricultural industries.
Some analyst have linked the region’s militant groups to those in Pakistan and other countries that are bent on engaging in jihad. China has recently strengthened relations with countries it borders on the west in hopes of intercepting insurgents who seek to enter or flee China, sometimes across high-mountain passes.