At least 31 persons were killed and more than 90 injured after powerful explosions ripped through an open air market in Urumqi the capital of the far-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on Thursday morning.
Two SUVs, spreading terror and panic, ploughed through the morning crowd of shoppers in the market located in the heart of Urumqi near the Renmin (People’s) park just before 8am on Thursday.
Soon, the vehicle’s occupants were lobbing explosives into the crowd, triggering multiple blasts
“Two vehicles, without license plates, broke through roadside fences and plowed into people at an open air market at Park North Street near Renmin Park at 7:50 a.m. and explosive devices were set off,” said a statement issued by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's publicity department.
By the time the two vehicles exploded, possibly killing the occupants, the cars had left behind a trail of death and destruction around the busy market.
It is not yet known how many occupants were inside the SUVs.
The attack is likely to lead to a heavier government crackdown in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uyghur minority community of China. Members of the community have been arrested and sentenced to jail term for allegedly carrying out, what the government calls, terror attacks in the remote province and in some cases other parts of China.
Officially, authorities are yet to blame any group for Thursday’s attack but it is expected that the blame will fall on members of the Uyghur community who complain of Beijing’s hardline policies and lack of religious and cultural freedom in Xinjiang.
The incident will certainly strengthen the government’s campaign against what has been termed as the trio of evils: extremism, terrorism and separatism.
Many of the dead and injured in today’s attack were elderly, state media reported, adding that the elderly of the area frequently visited the market to shop in the morning.
Eyewitnesses told the state-run Xinhua news agency that they heard loud explosions and saw flames and heavy smoke covering the scene of the crime.
On Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, members uploaded photographs showing blood splattered streets and bodies lying on them unattended. Smoke was seen bellowing over buildings.
Thursday’s incident is being interpreted as an escalation in the violence that Xinjiang had experienced recently. It was reminiscent of the attack at the Tiananmen Square last October in which five persons were killed and around 40 injured.
The government had blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for the Tiananmen attack.
President Xi Jinping, attending an Asia security summit in Shanghai issued a strong statement, pledging to “severely punish terrorists and spare no efforts in maintaining stability in response to Thursday morning's fatal explosions in Urumqi.”
Police will step up patrols and security control over possible terrorist targets and prevent ripple effects, said Xi in a statement, adding that the Chinese government will continue to work hard in fighting terrorism and try its best to safeguard social stability.
“The Chinese government has the confidence and the capability to crackdown on terrorism. The attempt of the terrorists will be in vain,” said foreign ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei said at the daily press briefing on Thursday.
The violent incident which showed the anti-human nature of terrorism should be condemned by people both inside and outside the country, Hong added.
A working group led by minister of public security Guo Shengkun has left for Xinjiang to supervise the investigation and handle the aftermath, state media said.