Suspects behind Xinjiang attacks 'belonged to terrorist groups'

State media says they committed murder, assault and arson, among other crimes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 1:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 1:15pm

State media has issued details on the 81 people sentenced in Xinjiang on terror-related charges – nine of them to death – saying the bulk of them belonged to terrorist organisations and had committed murder and other violent crimes.

Xinjiang television said 68 people had been charged with organising, leading or participating in a terrorist organisation, along with murder, assault, arson, and making or transporting explosives and firearms. It said 13 others were charged with lesser crimes such as ethnic discrimination and distributing materials promoting ethnic hatred.

The 81 people were sentenced at six different courts in Xinjiang. Nine were sentenced to death and three were given suspended death sentences, which are typically commuted to life in prison.

The sentences, issued on Thursday, came amid a massive crackdown in Xinjiang after four high-profile attacks on civilians since October. The attacks have been blamed on the region’s Muslim ethnic-Uygur separatists seeking to overthrow Chinese rule and inspired by global jihadi ideology.

Television footage showed the accused standing before court officials in prison uniforms, their hands shackled and heads pressed down by officers behind them. Some were hooded as they left the courtroom. Evidence shown included samurai swords and what appeared to be rope fuses and other simple bomb-making materials.

Authorities say 23 extremist groups have been broken up, including a group of five allegedly plotting another bomb attack. Officials last week said 55 people charged with terrorism and other crimes were sentenced at a stadium in northern Xinjiang – including at least one sentenced to death.

Since a vegetable market bombing that killed 43 people on May 22, officials have issued a flurry of announcements citing more than 300 arrests and scores of rapid prosecutions resulting in stiff sentences including the death penalty. The speed of the arrests and prosecutions has raised concerns among some human rights advocates who question the fairness of the trials.

The government has blamed the violence on the Muslim ethnic-Uygur separatists, saying the attackers are religious extremists with ties to overseas Islamic terror groups.

But Uygur activists say the region’s unrest is fuelled by resentment against settlers from the Chinese Han majority and official discrimination and restrictions on their native culture and Islamic practices.

In the May 22 market bombing in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi, men in SUVs plowed through crowds and tossed explosives in an attack that killed 39 people and four of the attackers. It was the region’s deadliest single incident of violence in recent history.

Three earlier attacks also used rudimentary explosives, vehicles or knives.

An apparent suicide bombing on April 30 at an Urumqi train station killed two suspected insurgents and one bystander. In March, 29 people were slashed and stabbed to death at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming. In October, three assailants drove an SUV through crowds in front of Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Gate and set their vehicle alight, killing the three attackers and two tourists.