Attackers hurled homemade bombs at government buildings and wounded three officers Sunday before police opened fire and shot dead five suspects, state media said, in the second assault in less than a week in a Chinese province far away from the Beijing Olympics.
The pre-dawn violence in the Muslim region of Xinjiang came amid tightened security following a deadly attack last Monday and threats by a militant Islamic group to disrupt the games.
The official Xinhua News Agency said attackers in Kuqa county flung homemade explosives at the local police station and office of industry and commerce from inside a taxi. Two police officers and a security guard were wounded and two police cars were destroyed, Xinhua said, citing Xinjiang's public security bureau. It was unclear how many assailants were involved in the attack, but Xinhua said police shot dead five of the suspects.
The already tight security in Xinjiang was increased in the past week after assailants killed 16 border police and wounded 16 others in the city of Kashgar on August 4, ramming a stolen truck into the group before tossing homemade bombs and stabbing them in a brazen attack.
The to attacks mark a dramatic increase in violence in Xinjiang, where local Muslims have waged a sputtering rebellion against Chinese rule. Heavy security had largely succeeded in suppressing violence over the past decade.
Wang Wei, vice president of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, called the attacks the work of "East Turkistan terrorists" and said no government would tolerate such violence. "East Turkestan" is the name some separatists have used to refer to Xinjiang.
"The very purpose of these attacks is all about separating the region from China," Wang said at a daily Olympic media briefing. He said the attackers "want to use the Olympic stage to enlarge the impact."
Authorities sealed off the area where the violence happened in Kuqa. Soldiers with machine guns patrolled the streets and people were told not to leave their homes.
A man who answered the phone at the Kuqa government's duty office said he was not aware of the explosions and refused to give his name. Repeated calls to the county's public security bureau rang unanswered.
A woman on duty at the emergency unit of the Kuqa People's Hospital said one man was pronounced dead upon arrival and others were being treated, but she gave no details.
"There were several explosions in several places in the county seat of Kuqa this morning, and we heard them from the hospital," said the woman, who would only give her last name, Tian. A Western tourist in Kuqa, who did not want his name or nationality mentioned for fear of the response from Chinese authorities, said he heard the explosions while he was in bed reading, around 2:30 am.
"I heard some bombs and then I heard some machine guns," he said. "The bombs sounded like thunder far away." During and after the attacks, police didn't come to guests' rooms to warn them to stay put. "We came down to the lobby this morning and it was breakfast as usual," the tourist said, but no one was allowed to go outside.
Police sealed off a six-lane road leading into the area from the airport with two strands of white plastic tape. A uniformed policeman stood in the middle of the road preventing unauthorized vehicles from passing but lifted the tape to allow a police car to go through.
Police detained an Associated Press reporter and photographer while they were reporting outside the security cordon Sunday. While being driven in by police within the restricted area, they saw one of the explosion sites: a storefront in a line of shops was burnt out, and a tricycle parked in front of the store was completely charred. Locals said a police station behind the store was the bomb's likely target.
About 50 people watched beside the road. They discussed the incident among themselves, but when asked by a reporter, would only say they neither saw nor heard the explosions.
"We've all heard that there was a bombing early this morning," said one man, a construction worker, who wouldn't give his name for fear of official retaliation. "This doesn't usually happen. It's happening now because of the Olympics, but I don't know who is doing it."
Two people from Hong Kong, two Britons and an Australian were unable to leave Kuqa because of the crackdown, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement. A man answering the phone at the Kuqa
Hotel, who declined to give his name, said a tour group of 20 South Koreans were at the hotel.
The latest violence came a day after two Americans closely linked to the US Olympic volleyball team were stabbed, one fatally, in Beijing on the first day of the games.
On Thursday, a video was purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party was released in which the militant group threatened to attack buses, trains and planes during the two-week Olympic competition.
The group wants independence for Xinjiang and is believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, where security experts say core members have received training from al-Qaida.
Xinjiang is to the Uighurs, a Muslim minority with a long history of tense relations with the Chinese. The Uighurs, with a population of about 8 million, have complained that the Communist government has been restricting their religion and Turkic culture.