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China puts blame on Pakistan-trained militants for attacks

Activists fear retaliation against Muslim Uighurs

By David Wivell
Associated Press / August 2, 2011

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URUMQI, China - China blamed Muslim extremists trained in Pakistan yesterday for launching one of two deadly weekend attacks in a troubled far western region, while activists overseas feared the government could respond by cracking down on ethnic Uighurs said to be behind the unrest.

Sunday’s attack left 13 dead, including several suspected assailants, in the Silk Road city of Kashgar. Authorities have not pinpointed suspects behind clashes a day earlier in the city that killed seven, including one of two men who allegedly hijacked a truck and rammed it into a crowd.

The weekend violence raised tensions across the Xinjiang region on China’s western frontier, which has been under tight security since 2009 when almost 200 people were killed in fighting between Han Chinese and minority Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group that sees Xinjiang as its homeland.

The World Uyghur Congress in Germany said it feared the violence could prompt a government crackdown on Uighurs still blamed for the unrest two years ago in Urumqi, the regional capital.

Kashgar issued warrants and offered $16,000 for information leading to the arrest of two Uighur suspects allegedly seen fleeing the scene of Sunday’s attack. The official Xinhua News Agency reported late yesterday that police shot to death the two suspects in cornfields in a suburb of Kashgar.

The Xinhua report cited Hou Hanmin, director of Xinjiang’s International Communication Office.

Earlier, the city said a group of armed terrorists had stormed a restaurant and killed the owner and a waiter before setting fire to the building.

The suspects then ran out into the street and stabbed civilians at random, killing another four people and injuring 12, the city said. Police fired at the suspects, killing four on the scene while a fifth died later in a hospital.

Yesterday, the city said an initial investigation showed members of the group allegedly behind Sunday’s attack had been trained in explosives and firearms in Pakistani camps run by the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group advocating independence for Xinjiang. It offered no proof in the statement on its website. China says the group is allied with Al Qaeda.

Pakistan, a key ally to China, condemned the violence and offered support in combating the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. A Foreign Ministry statement said it was fully confident the people of Xinjiang autonomous region and the Chinese government “will succeed in frustrating evil designs of the terrorists, extremists and separatists, who constitute an evil force.’’

Xinjiang region has been beset by ethnic conflict and a sometimes-violent separatist movement by Uighurs, who say they have been marginalized as more majority Han Chinese move into the region.

The Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang held an emergency meeting in Urumqi after the attacks and ordered a crackdown on religious extremism and illegal religious activities. “People in Xinjiang should stay vigilant and recognize that terrorist attackers are the ‘common enemies of all ethnic groups,’ ’’ Zhang Chunxian said.

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