Pro-government Kashgar imam assasinated by 'religious extremists'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 10:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 7:16pm

A high-profile pro-Beijing imam in Xinjiang has been assassinated by three men who were "influenced by radical religious beliefs", police say.

The death of Jume Tahir, chief imam at a major mosque in Kashgar, comes amid an upsurge of violence in the northwestern region, where a large minority of the population are Turkic-speaking Uygur Muslims.

The 74-year-old Uygur, a former National People's Congress deputy, was killed just before 7am on Wednesday after leading prayers at the old town's Id Kah Mosque, Xinhua cited police as saying. A tourist reported seeing a body in a pool of blood outside the mosque around that time.

Xinhua quoted police as saying the suspects - Turghun Tursun, Memetjan Remutillan and Nurmemet Abidilimit - had been "influenced by radical religious beliefs [and] intended on raising their profile by committing the killing".

Police tracked down and tried to arrest the trio, but they resisted, attacking officers with knives and axes, Xinhua said. Two of the men were shot dead and the third arrested.

Tahir was vice-president of the Islamic Association of China. Neither the association nor the Kashgar Islamic Association could be reached for comment.

Xinhua described Tahir as a patriot who frequently appeared in the state media praising the government's efforts to stabilise the region and condemning those who rose up against it.

"We must stay calm and rational and cling to social harmony and stability instead of falling into traps set by exiled separatists," he said in 2009 after riots in Urumqi killed almost 200 people.

His death came two days after armed assailants attacked police and government offices in Yarkand county, or Shache, near Kashgar, triggering clashes that Xinhua said killed "dozens".

Exiled Uygur groups and human rights activists say government curbs on the minority's language, religion and culture inflame tensions. Beijing blames the violence on extremists seeking independence for the region.