China on Sunday blamed Islamic separatist forces from the restive and remote Xinjiang region for the indiscriminate knife attacks that claimed the lives of 34 people, including five attackers, and injuring 130 at the Kunming railway station in southwest China late on Saturday night.
At least 10 unidentified knife-wielding attackers descended on the crowded railway station soon after 9 pm on Saturday targeting passengers and visitors, taking the victims and security personnel completely by surprise.
Chinese top security official, Meng Jianzhu, called it “a grave violent terrorist attack that caused untold damage to people's lives and property.”
“Evidence at the crime scene showed that the Kunming Railway Station terrorist attack was orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist forces,” the municipal government was quoted by the state media as saying on Sunday.
Parts of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s remote far-western corner has been seen bursts of violence in the recent past where suspects have attacked officials, police officers and government buildings with crude weapons like knives, axes and petrol bombs.
While the government claims that Islamist militant are to blame for the recurring violence in the remote region, home to the Muslim Uyghur community, exiled and rights groups say that the violence is the result of Beijing’s hard-line policies in the province.
Xinhua reported that some 190 terrorist attacks were recorded in Xinjiang in 2012, increasing by a significant margin from 2011, according to the regional public security department.
More than 100 people, including several policemen, have been killed in violence in Xinjiang since last April.
“In Xinjiang, pervasive ethnic discrimination and severe religious repression continued to fuel rising tensions,” rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual report released in January this year.
If what the authorities say is true, then the attack in Kunming is the biggest one carried out by the insurgents outside Xinjiang – the incident could be a portent that the violence which was so far largely restricted in one province of the country was now boiling over, spreading to other parts.
Late last year, China blamed a suicide attack at Tiananmen Square on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an obscure separatist group from Central Asia.
Meng Jianzhu, head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, was quoted as saying that the ETIM was responsible for the attack in which an SUV with a family of three ploughed into a group of people at the Square on Monday noon in a planned act of terrorism.
Five people including the three in the vehicle were killed and at least 40 others were injured in the crash and subsequent blaze which the occupants had triggered.
Meng visited the injured in a Kunming hospital on Sunday and also met the families of the deceased.
Reacting strongly to the late night attack, President Xi Jinping has ordered law enforcement agencies to solve the case and punish the suspects in accordance with law.
“The President, also head of China's national security commission, asked law enforcement to crack down on violent terrorist activities in all forms, safeguard social stability and guarantee the safety of people's lives and property,” official news agency Xinhua said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon condemned “in the strongest terms the terrible attack today on civilians at the railway station in Kunming” expressing his hope that “those responsible will be brought to justice.”