BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of people from China’s restive western region of Xinjiang who carried out a deadly weekend attack at a train station were trying to leave the country to wage a holy war, state media said on Wednesday.
China says militants from Xinjiang, home to a large Muslim Uighur minority, launched the attack last Saturday in the southwestern city of Kunming, killing at least 29 people and wounding about 140.
Police shot dead four of the assailants and captured the other four.
Qin Guangrong, Communist Party chief of Yunnan province where Kunming is located, said that the eight attackers “originally wanted to participate in ‘jihad’,” state media, including Xinhua news agency, reported.
“They could not leave from Yunnan, so they looked elsewhere, and went to Guangdong province, but also could not leave, so they returned to Yunnan,” Qin was quoted as saying.
They then went to Yunnan’s Honghe county, which borders Vietnam, where they planned, if they were unable to leave the country from there, to carry out jihad either in Honghe or at railway or bus stations in Kunming, he added.
Qin said that “some people” who had been in contact with the eight were also in detention, though he gave no details.
There have been instances in the past of Uighurs who have turned up in Southeast Asia seeking asylum.
In 2009, Cambodia deported a group of about 20 Uighurs to China. Cambodia, the recipient of increasingly large amounts of Chinese investment and trade, was sharply rebuked by human rights groups for deporting them.
Many Uighurs say they are unhappy at Chinese restrictions on their culture and religion, though the government says they are given widespread freedoms.
Beijing says it faces a real threat from militant Islamists in Xinjiang who want an independent state called East Turkestan. Authorities say many have links with foreign groups, though rights groups and some foreign experts say there is little evidence to support this.
Qin said that lessons needed to be learnt from the attack, which took place hundreds of km (miles) from Xinjiang in a subtropical province better known for its scenic beauty and largely harmonious relations with ethnic minorities.
“(Our) awareness of terrorism was not enough, and we could not have imagined before that terrorism could happen here.”
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski