Seven killed in Xinjiang bomb attack
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing
A bomb attack in Xinjiang targeting a policeman and security guards killed seven people and wounded 14 yesterday.
A group of 15 security guards led by an auxiliary police officer was attacked at about 10.30am on the outskirts of Aksu in southwestern Xinjiang, the Aksu prefectural government's website said.
It said the suspected attacker, a Uygur man, had ridden a three-wheeled motorcycle into the security officers, who were patrolling in uniform, and civilian passers-by and detonated the explosive device.
The suspect, who was also injured, was caught by police at the site of the blast, in Yiganqi township.
Five people were killed instantly, and two others died later in hospital. Xinjiang government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin said at least four people were seriously injured; most of the injured were civilians.
The prefectural government said an investigation was under way, on the regional government's orders.
Xinhua said in a brief dispatch that an electric tricycle had blown up on a bridge on the outskirts of the city. Witnesses said the suspected attackers were a man and a woman. The woman died in the blast, the news agency reported.
Hou dismissed speculation that martial law had been declared in Aksu: 'As far as I know, local authorities have stepped up security, and police have sealed off the area of the explosion, but that is not martial law.'
The blast was the first deadly attack since Zhang Chunxian became the restive region's Communist Party boss in April.
The bomber struck in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and less than two weeks ahead of the region's biggest annual trade fair, which opens on September 1.
Although the soft-spoken Zhang appears to care more about boosting the impoverished region's economy, analysts and Xinjiang residents said he had stuck to Beijing's hard-line attitude on security matters.
For locals, the blast was a bitter reminder of bombings and ethnic violence in the past two years, including ethnic rioting in the regional capital, Urumqi , last year. Analysts say Aksu city, the capital of Aksu prefecture, nearly 1,000 kilometres from Urumqi, has become a hotbed of violence and terrorist attacks.
While Uygurs account for over 72 per cent of the prefecture's population of 1.8 million, they remain a minority in Aksu city. Pan Chen, an ethnic Han who runs a painting school in Aksu, said the attack has shocked locals and caused panic.
'The site of the blast is a suburban area populated by Uygurs, while the Han Chinese concentrate in the downtown areas,' he said.
Hou said yesterday's attack resembled armed attacks on August 10, 2008. A group carrying home-made explosives drove a three-wheeled vehicle into a police station compound in Kuqa town in Aksu prefecture as part of 12 bombings targeting police, government buildings and markets on that day. At least 11 people were killed, including 10 attackers.
Aksu city averted another suicide attack last year when police arrested six suspects and found more than 20 bombs on its outskirts.
Yesterday's blast came minutes after Xinjiang governor Nur Bekri reiterated warnings about the 'three forces' - terrorism, religious extremism and separatism - the Associated Press reported.
He told a group of foreign journalists the region would be haunted by separatism for a long time and vowed to clamp down on separatist forces.
Additional reporting by Laura Zhou