Tiananmen Square terror attack

Uygurs blame religious and cultural repression in Xinjiang for violence

Uygurs say they are not terrorists, but victims of religious intolerance

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 11:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 10:31am

The central government has blamed a fiery attack in Tiananmen Square on "terrorists" from Xinjiang backed by international militants, but residents say that cultural repression, corruption and police abuses - not jihadism - is driving the violence.

The dusty city of Hotan on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert is 3,300 kilometres and a world away from Beijing's Forbidden City, the symbolic heart of the nation's power.

Armed guards in camouflage and police vans patrol the streets in the city whose population of two million is 96 per cent Uygur.

State broadcaster CCTV has said the three people who carried out the Tiananmen attack, which saw their vehicle barrel into crowds and burst into flames, and five others detained in connection, were all from Hotan.

But residents reject the accusation that the incident and a series of clashes inside Xinjiang this year are the result of terrorism.

"Uygurs are angry that women are not allowed to cover their faces or that they must bribe government officials to get things done," said a 30-year-old doctor.

Like other interviewees he asked not to be named for fear of repercussions.

"They don't go overseas" for terrorism training, he said. "The problem is they are unhappy with officials in Hotan. The governance is bad and that's why these idiots do what they do - make trouble, turn to violence."

Several said they did not know whether Islamic extremism or other factors motivated the Tiananmen attack, in which police said a man, his wife and his mother crashed into crowds on the square, killing two tourists, before setting their car on fire and dying in the blaze.

One pointed to the amateur nature of attacks as evidence the perpetrators could not have been organised or trained.

Security experts have also questioned Beijing's allegations that a militant group with cross-border links is actively fighting for an independent Xinjiang, while overseas rights groups accuse the central government of exaggerating the global jihad threat to justify oppressive measures.

Beijing says all countries are justified in cracking down on terrorism and insists it has promoted economic growth in the relatively undeveloped region.

But in Hotan, Uygurs cite religious restrictions as a grievance, particularly an official campaign to stop the Muslim practice of women covering their faces.

At a carpet factory in Hotan, the manager said attacks involving Uygurs were always reported as terrorism. "It's better not to look into it or ask questions," he said. "Some of the police at the lower levels are uncivilised. That is why conflicts arise."