Xinjiang police 'shot dead 14 thugs'
Choi Chi-yuk in Hotan and Ng Tze-wei
Xinjiang authorities said yesterday that 14 'thugs' were shot dead by police and four arrested during Monday's 'terrorist attack' on a police station in Hotan, raising the death toll in the clash to 18.
The four previously acknowledged killed at the Nuerbage police station were a paramilitary police officer, a police assistant and two civilians.
Police station chief Abulaiti Maitiniyazi said that police had arrested four 'assailants' who took part in the attack. He said most of the attackers were from outside Hotan, many from the eastern city of Kashgar.
Although order appeared to have been restored in Hotan yesterday, with tight security visible only at the Nuerbage police station and some government buildings, the atmosphere remained tense. Paramilitary police are guarding the police station around the clock.
The central government said that 'religious extremists' attacked the police station, referring to 'jihad' slogans shouted by the attackers and the flags they brandished.
However, a spokesman for an overseas Uygur group said that police had opened fire on peaceful protesters who were upset about a crackdown on young Uygurs since the anniversary of rioting in the regional capital Urumqi two years ago. The July 5, 2009, rioting degenerated into bloody clashes between Uygurs and Han Chinese, with nearly 200 people killed, mostly Han.
Maitiniyazi denied that police had opened fire on unarmed people. He said attackers had stormed the police station, packed with people filing complaints and petitions, and had thrown petrol bombs.
Maitiniyazi said he received a call from a colleague about the attack and saw a badly wounded auxiliary police officer lying on the ground when he arrived at the scene.
'I saw with my eyes how they hacked at the civilians with their knives, with the aim to kill, as the attacked civilians all had their faces, noses and ears slashed,' he said.
The police chief said he shouted at the attackers in Uygur, urging them to stop, but the thugs threw petrol bombs and rocks at the police in return. He said he had no other option but to open fire on the attackers.
Bullet holes could be seen in the police station, while some areas were covered by new paint.
A Xinhua report on Wednesday said the attackers, carrying axes, knives, daggers, petrol bombs and other explosives, took six civilians and several police officers hostage, set fire to the offices, and stormed the top floor of the police station. They shouted 'Allah, the one and only God' during the attack.
A report carried by official website Tianshannet said the attackers hung a 'religious extremist' flag on top of the building.
The black flag or flags used by the attackers bore white Arabic script, Xinjiang government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin said, adding that they were known as jihad flags.
According to the new reports, the 18 attackers gathered in Hotan on Friday to prepare for the attack. They were all male, aged between 20 to 40, and spoke with a non-Hotan accent.
Dilxadi Rexiti, a spokesman for the German-based World Uygur Congress, said the Chinese authorities were lying.
'There are too many loopholes in their version of what happened. If the attack was premeditated, why didn't the police take precautions,' Rexiti asked.
He quoted sources in Hotan as saying that more dead and injured Uygurs were taken away to hide the extent of the clash, and called on the authorities to lift controls on information about the incident.