At least 27 persons were killed and more than 100 injured in what authorities have called a terrorist attack at a railway station in the city of Kunming in southwest China on Saturday night.
State media reports said knife-wielding assailants rushed into the Kunming railway station around 9pm on Saturday and indiscriminately targeted people, triggering panic and chaos in and around the station.
In the ensuing attack, at least 27 were killed and as many as 109 were injured, police were quoted by the state media as saying.
Many of the unidentified assailants were overpowered and detained by the police.
Some agency reports said that police shot at the assailants as well.
An Associated Press report said the attackers were wearing black uniforms.
While the incident happened in China’s deep south, it is expected to cast a shadow of unease on the upcoming meetings of the Communist country’s National People’s Congress and its advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee beginning Monday.
Security had anyway been heightened because of the meetings but following Saturday’s incident, an unprecedented security blanket is expected to be thrown over Beijing for the next few weeks.
Knife attacks in China are not uncommon but none of similar attacks have been carried out in such a large-scale.
In recent history, several cases have been reported where Chinese citizens carried out knife assaults, some with grievances against officials. In at least one case, a knife wielding man had attacked school children.
Last year, a citizen even exploded home-made explosives inside the Beijing Capital International Airport in protest against civic authorities.
But authorities have claimed that the most serious “planned and premeditated” attacks, often with knives, have been carried out by “terrorists” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China’s remote far-west.
The government has consistently blamed those attacks on separatists influenced and trained by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
Mostly Muslim Uyghur men have been shot dead or arrested for these attacks. In October 2013, the government similarly blamed Uyghur “terrorists” for carrying out a suicide attack at the Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.
While the state media called Saturday’s case a “violent terrorist attack”, authorities were yet to comment on who or which group could have carried it out.
A doctor with the Kunming No.1 People's Hospital told the official Xinhua news agency over the phone that medical workers of the hospital are busy treating the injured, adding that they are not still unsure of the exact number of casualties.
Another doctor with the hospital told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that the injured are still being sent to the hospital.
The exact number of casualties was not yet clear. At least 60 persons were being treated in hospitals.
Yang Haifei, a local resident of Yunnan, told Xinhua that he was attacked and sustained injuries on his chest and back.
Yang said he was buying a ticket when he saw a group of people rush into the station, most of them in black, and start attacking others.
"I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone," he said, adding that people who were slower were severely injured.
"They just fell on the ground," he said.
The Security Management Bureau under the Ministry of Public Security called the incident a "severe violent crime" at its official Sina Weibo account.
Pictures on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, show local police patrolling the station. Bodies in blood can be spotted on the ground in the pictures. Doctors were seen transporting injured people to a local hospital.
More details were expected to gradually emerge about Saturday’s incident. But it remains to be seen how much the authorities share about bloody attack that has left citizens of the country rattled.
“No matter what motives the murderers hold, the killing of innocence people are against kindness and justice. The police will crack down the crimes in accordance with the law without any tolerance. May the dead rest in peace,” a user wrote on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.