China investigating terrorist links in Xinjiang attack

BEIJING Mon Aug 11, 2008 8:32am EDT

1 of 2. A view shows the bombing site at Hualin Market in Kuqa county, Xinjiang Ugyur Autonumous Region August 10, 2008 in this photo distributed by China's official Xinhua News Agency.

Credit: Reuters/Xinhua/Shen Qiao

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities are investigating whether a series of attacks in the restive region of Xinjiang which killed 11 had links to known terrorist groups, a government official said on Monday.

Homemade grenade attacks shook Kuqa, a town in the south of Xinjiang more than 3,000 km (1,860 miles) from Beijing, as 15 men targeted supermarkets, hotels and government offices in the early hours of Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

It was the second attack in Xinjiang in a week after 16 police were killed in the frontier city of Kashgar last Monday, as Beijing was gearing up to host the Olympic Games.

Xinjiang government official Mutiezhapu Hasimu told a news conference in the remote region, monitored on Hong Kong television, that Sunday's attacks had been "organized", and that three suspects were still on the run.

"It is still under investigation whether it was connected with other organizations," he said, when asked if the attack was connected to groups the government says are waging a violent campaign to set up an independent state called East Turkistan.

"There is no clear evidence to show the August 10 explosions had anything to do with what happened in Kashgar," he added.

Police shot dead eight assailants, while another two blew themselves up. A security guard also died in the attacks.

They managed to capture two of the attackers, according to state media.

"The terrorists that were killed and arrested were all Uighurs and from Xinjiang," Mutiezhapu Hasimu said.

Xinhua said one of the captured suspected attackers was a 15-year-old woman. She was recuperating in hospital.

China says East Turkistan militants seeking an independent homeland for Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang are among the top threats to the Olympics. The government has in the past blamed al Qaeda for supporting Xinjiang militants.

Yet some rights groups say the government is trumping up the threat to crack down further on the Uighur people.

Many of Xinjiang's 8 million Uighurs chafe at controls on religion that China enforces and resent influxes of Han Chinese migrants and businesses. Uighurs now make up slightly less than half of its 20 million people, and most of the rest are Han.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Hong Kong bureau; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

(For more stories visit our multimedia website "2008 Summer Olympics" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)

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