Authorities on Saturday announced the first arrest in a bombing that killed at least 43 people in China’s Muslim northwest and said they were launching a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown.
Chinese police have identified five suspects who carried out a suicide bombing in the deadliest attack in the country’s restive Xinjiang region in years, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Police accused the suspects of forming a “terrorist gang” at the end of last year, and made explosive devices and chose the target for their attack, Xinhua said.
Four of the suspects were killed and the fifth was captured on Thursday night in an area about 250 kilometres south of Urumqi, it added.
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.
Police have identified the suspects as Nurahmat Ablipiz, Memet Memtimin, Raghimjan Memet, Memtimin Mahmat and Ablet Abdukadir, Xinhua said late on Friday. They all appear to be Uygur, judging by their names.
The five, influenced by religious extremism, took part in illegal religious activities, watched and listened to terrorist violence video and audio materials, the report said citing the police.
Thursday’s bombing was the second suicide attack in the capital in just over three weeks. A bomb and knife attack at an Urumqi train station in April killed a bystander and wounded 79.
China has launched a one-year crackdown to hunt down and punish terrorists in Xinjiang to “focus on terrorists and religious extremist groups, gun and explosive manufacturing dens and terrorist training camps, state media reported on Friday.
Also on Saturday, the city government in Beijing, the Chinese capital, 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 already are required to submit handbags and parcels for X-ray examination under measures imposed ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
The government had already launched a campaign to strike hard against terrorism in Xinjiang, blaming Islamists and separatists for the worsening violence in the resource-rich western region bordering central Asia. At least 180 people have been killed in attacks across China over the past year.
Exiles and rights groups say the real cause of the unrest in Xinjiang is China’s heavy-handed policies, including curbs on Islam and the culture of Uygurs, Muslims who speak a Turkic language.
The Uygurs have long complained of official discrimination in favour of the Han people, China’s majority ethnic group.
The attackers ploughed two vehicles into an open market in Urumqi and hurled explosives. Many of the 94 wounded were elderly shoppers, according to witnesses.
No group has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack.
President Xi Jinping pledged to “severely punish terrorists and spare no efforts in maintaining stability,” Xinhua reported.
China’s top police official, Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun, was dispatched to Urumqi as the head of a team to investigate the attack.
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