BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of “mobsters” on Monday tried to set off an explosive device in a business district in China’s troubled western region of Xinjiang, prompting police to shoot six of them dead, the local government said.
Hundreds of people have been killed in resource-rich Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of central Asia, in violence in the past two years between the Muslim Uighur people who call the region home and ethnic majority Han Chinese.
The government has also blamed attacks elsewhere in China, including Beijing, on Islamist militants from Xinjiang.
Monday’s violence came two months after 15 people were killed when a group threw explosives into a crowded street of vendors selling food in Xinjiang.
Police in Shule county, south of the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, had acted on a tip-off about “a suspicious person carrying an explosive device”, the Xinjiang government said on its official news website.
An axe-wielding individual tried to attack police officers and set off an explosive device, prompting the officers to shoot him, the government said.
The report added that police trying to dispose of an explosive device were attacked by five “thugs” who sought to detonate it, but did not make clear if this was a separate incident. Police killed the men, according to the government.
The report said there were no other casualties, but gave no details of the assailants.
China’s allegations were an “excuse to cover up the excessive use of force”, said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress.
“China’s hostile policy will only provoke more turbulence there,” he said in emailed comments.
Many Uighurs call Xinjiang East Turkestan. China often blames frequent outbreaks of violence there on extremists agitating for an independent nation.
Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest. Beijing denies this.
In a previous outbreak of violence in Shule in 2008, at the time of the Olympic Games in Beijing, three security officers were stabbed to death and another wounded by attackers police described as “terrorists”.
Xinjiang is crucial to China’s growing energy needs, but analysts say the bulk of the proceeds from sales of its resources has gone to majority Han Chinese, stoking resentment among Uighurs.
China has blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for past attacks, but experts and rights groups have cast doubt on its existence as a cohesive group.
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez