Three Uyghur women and a child at a market in Kashi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Photo: CFP
Attackers killed at least 10 people Tuesday in Kashi, or Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The attack came days before the annual sessions of the country's top legislature and political advisory body in Beijing.
A statement from the local government obtained by the Global Times said that the attacks started at around 6 pm Tuesday in Yecheng county, killing and injuring a number of people.
The authority blamed violent terrorists for the attack, but did not reveal the number of terrorists.
It said the incident had been dealt with in a timely manner but no details were given about the cause of the violence.
The Xinhua News Agency put the number of casualties at 10 as of press time. It also said the attackers were armed with knives, and police shot two of the assailants dead, while also chasing other attackers.
Chen Li, an official with Kashi's publicity department, told the Global Times that she was traveling to the county, more than 200 kilometers away from the city, and declined to reveal more details.
He Bing, a taxi driver in Kashi, told the Global Times that he and his friends had not heard about the attack, and that the city remained calm.
Turgunjan Tursun, an associate researcher with the Institute of Sociology at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Yecheng had witnessed more violent incidents in recent years than other regions in Xinjiang, and has been regarded as a key region for maintaining stability.
"Yecheng is relatively close to the border, and is a secluded and remote region. It is a quite a sensitive region in geopolitics," Tursun said.
However, he said the latest attack was an isolated case, and should not be viewed as a prelude to frequent terrorist attacks in the region.
"The 'three evil forces' of separatism, extremism and terrorism are still far from having the abilities to launch attacks at will," he said, adding that the attack should not be linked with the leadership transition expected in autumn.
Zhu Feng, a professor at the School of International Studies of Peking University, told the Global Times that if the attackers had been masterminded by a separatist group, it would be a very serious incident.
"China has to take strict precautions against this trend of terrorism and severely crack down on such activities, as their unmitigated behavior has brought about great threats to civilian lives and property," said Zhu.
"Meanwhile, the government should try to gradually eliminate the social base for such terrorist acts. The development of Xinjiang's economy and culture should be incorporated into the overall development of the country," Zhu Feng added.
People living in Kashi are of more than 30 ethnic groups. The city became a special economic zone in 2010.
Xinjiang has witnessed a number of terrorist attacks in recent years. The most deadly one happened on July 5, 2009 in regional capital Urumqi, leaving 197 people dead and more than 1,600 others injured.
On July 30, 2011, assailants hijacked a truck in Kashi and stabbed the driver to death before plowing the vehicle into bystanders. Eight were killed and 31 were injured. The following day, in another terrorist attack in the city, 5 people died and 13 were injured.
According to local authorities, the attackers were trained by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a terrorist group listed by the UN.
Xinjiang is set to enroll 8,000 policemen to maintain stability at local levels. The campaign aims to increase police coverage in grass-roots areas by stationing at least one police officer in each village.
"The whole region has been suffering a shortage of police forces given its vastness compared to inland areas. The campaign is meant to improve that situation," a law enforcement official in Xinjiang told the Global Times earlier.
Zhu noted that when dealing with the separatists, stern measures are necessary to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.
Zhu said the attackers were trying to cause a public sensation ahead of the upcoming two sessions.