BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have detained 19 people and seized homemade explosives and weapons following a bloody clash between residents and officials which killed 21 people last week in the restive region of Xinjiang, state media reported.
The violence, in the heavily ethnic Uighur part of Xinjiang near the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, was the deadliest in the far western region since July 2009, when nearly 200 people were killed in riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.
The government has labeled the violence in Kashgar’s Maralbexi county as a “terrorist attack”, though the exiled World Uyghur Congress has said the shooting and killing of a young Uighur by “Chinese armed personnel” prompted the Uighurs to retaliate.
Many Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who call energy-rich Xinjiang home, chafe at Chinese restrictions on their culture, language and religion. China says it grants them wide-ranging freedoms.
Police have now rounded up 19 people in Kashgar, Urumqi and another part of Xinjiang called Bayingolin, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Monday.
Members of the group who carried out the attack “regularly watched video clips advocating religious extremism and terrorism and attended illegal preaching ceremonies”, Xinhua said.
“Since early December 2012, they had always gathered ... to do physical training and to practice killing skills they had learned from the terrorist video clips,” the English language report said.
It said the unidentified group had tested explosives, made bombs and remote controllers and planned to “do something big” in densely populated areas of Kashgar in the coming months.
“The group members were spotted making explosives on April 23 by local police and community workers, which led to the deadly clash,” the report said.
Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei said police also seized homemade explosives, weapons and East Turkistan flags, Xinhua added.
China accuses armed Uighur groups of having links to Central Asian and Pakistani Islamist extremists, and of carrying out attacks to establish an independent state called East Turkistan.
Many rights groups say China overplays the threat posed to justify its tough controls in Xinjiang.
“China’s unilateral accusations lack transparency and they are using so-called terrorism as an excuse to repress the Uighur people. The clash was a direct result of Chinese provocations,” said World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit.
Meng said the government would mount an “iron-handed crackdown against terrorism”, Xinhua added.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates