More than a dozen people were killed in the Xinjiang region of far western China this week in a clash between ethnic Uighurs and the police, according to a report by Radio Free Asia that was largely corroborated by local residents, including a police officer.
Radio Free Asia, or RFA, a news service based in Washington and funded by the United States government that employs Uighur reporters, said that at least 18 and as many as 28 people were killed in the knife and bomb attack early Monday in Kashgar, a predominantly Uighur city on the ancient Silk Road near China’s border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The clash has not been reported in China’s state-controlled news media.
According to the RFA report, the violence began when a police officer tried to stop a car that had gone through a checkpoint without stopping. The car backed up, running over the officer’s leg and breaking it. Two unarmed traffic officers who came to help the injured officer were stabbed to death by two people who emerged from the car, RFA reported, citing Turghun Memet, a local police officer.
By the time armed police officers reached the scene, more attackers had arrived. Fifteen assailants and three additional police officers were killed, RFA quoted Mr. Memet as saying.
Details in the report were corroborated by at least three people in the neighborhood where the clash was said to have taken place. One, a police officer, who did not give his name because he was not permitted to talk to foreign news organizations, confirmed that such a clash had occurred and sent a photo of a document, which he said was a police notice, confirming the basic outlines of the RFA report. It said that 15 attackers and two police officers had been killed and that the police had seized more than 100 Molotov cocktails, seven explosive devices and three large knives.
A bank employee and a person who answered the phone at a nearby hotel, both of whom declined to give their names, also confirmed that a clash had taken place. “The incident wasn’t very big. Everything is now back to normal,” the person at the hotel said.
Uighurs, an ethnic Turkic group that makes up more than 40 percent of Xinjiang’s 22 million people, have been struggling to maintain their identity there and practice their religion, Islam, amid increasing controls from Beijing. Some Uighurs want to break away from China and form an independent East Turkestan, and some of them engage in sporadic, deadly attacks against the authorities.
The attacks have been met with increased force from Beijing, which announced a “strike hard” campaign last year to round up those who are suspected of being militants, with arrests more than doubling from 2013. Many incidents reported by RFA or by websites that advocate on behalf of the Uighur people go unreported in the official Chinese news media, despite relatively high death tolls.