Xinjiang becomes 'a major battlefield' in anti-terror campaign

Security clampdown as authorities launch one-year campaign to 'hunt down and punish' terrorists following attack on Urumqi street market

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 5:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 10:45am

Security has been stepped up in Beijing and Xinjiang after police made their first arrest following the bloodiest attack in the restive region in years, which left 43 people dead, including four assailants.

In the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi , where the attack happened, armed paramilitary police were on patrol at many locations across the city.

In Thursday's attack the assailants, who were in two vehicles, ploughed into shoppers and traders at a street market and threw explosives.

State media said late on Friday that Xinjiang had launched a "one-year campaign against terrorist violence", as details of the suspects involved in the attack were released.

Police named the five suspects and accused them of forming a "terrorist gang" at the end of last year, Xinhua said.

Watch: Show of force in China's Urumqi in wake of deadly attack

Four of them died at the scene, Xinhua said, while another was arrested late on Thursday 250km from Urumqi in Bayingolin, a vast prefecture to the south of the city.

The group "took part in illegal religious activities, watched and listened to terrorist violence video and audio materials", according to the news agency.

It said an anti-terrorism campaign with Xinjiang "as the major battlefield" started on Friday. Authorities would target religious extremist groups, gun and "explosive manufacturing dens and terrorist training camps".

"Terrorists and extremists will be hunted down and punished," Xinhua said.

Uygurs, members of a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, make up a large minority of Xinjiang's population. Beijing accuses Uygur militants of fighting to create an independent state there called East Turkestan.

Also yesterday, the city government in Beijing announced it was tightening security on subways. A measure under which passengers at stations in central Beijing are required to undergo security checks will be extended to three additional stations, the city government said. Passengers at all stations are already required to submit handbags and parcels for X-ray examination under measures imposed ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The violence was the deadliest in Xinjiang since riots in Urumqi in 2009 between Uygurs and Han Chinese left almost 200 people dead, according to an official death toll.

Recent attacks have shown an audacity and deliberateness that was not present before. Attackers have increasingly targeted civilians rather than police and government targets.

A bomb attack at an Urumqi train station as President Xi Jinping visited the far-western region last month killed three people, including two attackers, and injured 79. Security has been tightened since then.

In response to Thursday's attack, Xi pledged to "severely punish terrorists and spare no efforts in maintaining stability", Xinhua reported.

The mainland's top police official, Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun , was sent to Urumqi as the head of a team to investigate the attack.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse