Witness to history: Victims, survivors disclose untold details of 2012 terror attack in Xinjiang
Published: Jan 21, 2024 08:55 PM
Editor's Note:

On February 28, 2012, Tursun Talip, a resident in Yecheng county, Kashi Prefecture, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, lost his son Turghunjan, an auxiliary police officer who was hacked to death by nine terrorists, alongside another 12 killed and 16 injured. Tursun rushed to the scene and collapsed on the weeping bitterly in front of his son's pool of blood. "All I had in my mind was my son being hacked to death. I could even hear him crying out for me." 

What happened to Turghunjan and other victims on that day and how the lives of the survivors and those who lost their beloved ones changed have all been recorded in the report titled "Victims and Survivors of Terrorism in China: An Oral History," which was published by the Institute for Communication and Borderland Governance (ICBG) at Jinan University. The Global Times selected two stories from the report that truly encapsulate the severity of the terror attack that happened in Xinjiang, and also interviewed Zhang Liang, director of the ICBG, who initiated the report project, to understand its significance. 

This story is a part of the Global Times' "Witness to history" series, which features first-hand accounts from witnesses who were at the forefront of historic moments. From scholars, politicians and diplomats to ordinary citizens, their authentic reflections on the impact of historical moments help reveal a sound future for humanity through the solid forward steps taken in the past and the present.

An ancient heritage in Yecheng county, Kashi Prefecture, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Photo: VCG

An ancient heritage in Yecheng county, Kashi Prefecture, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Photo: VCG

'I hate those terrorists to the bones!'

When the terror attack happened on February 28, 2012, Tursun was working at a school, and at around 7 pm, he received a call asking him to inform the faculty to stay inside and close the school gate as soon as possible as something had happened at the Xingfu Road pedestrian street. 

"My heart stopped as I soon realized that my son was on duty there, and I thought, 'God, please keep my son safe from harm.' I was so worried. Then I immediately called the head of the traffic brigade and told him that my son was there, and I had to go over. Then I got on my motorbike and prayed for my son on the way," said Tursun. 

The attack was over by the time Tursun arrived at the scene. Crowds had been evacuated, and the police had begun to clean up the scene. At the scene was a police officer from the county public security bureau, who stopped Tursun from approaching. 

After informing the police officer that he was, in fact, Turghunjan's father, Tursun was later escorted to the hospital by a female officer. They did not find Turghunjan in the treatment room. Early in the morning the next day, Tursun learned that his son had died. 

"Outside the room, I immediately saw the wounds on my son's neck, and here (shoulder and neck), and there (right arm) … When we left the hospital, my daughter-in-law, wife of Turghunjan, immediately broke down. Later, the county chiefs said my son honorably sacrificed his life for the people, and escorted my son's body back to my house," Tursun said. 

Tursun later learned that while his son was on duty that day, some of the terrorists - all youngsters aged about 25 - had gathered at a market at around 6 pm. Turghunjan thrice went over to ask them not to gather at the pedestrian street exit, but they walked a few steps away and still gathered. When Turghunjan went to check their IDs, he saw that one of the terrorists was carrying an ax with him.

"My son was going to take that man to the police station nearby. My son should have called the police station first, but he wanted to take those people to the police station by himself… At that moment, one of the terrorists took out an ax, sent a secret signal to his accomplices, and then hacked my son and finally killed him," said Tursun.

The original targets of those terrorists were primary school students. The terror group divided itself into three teams, one stationed at the pedestrian street gate, another at the pedestrian street market, and the third next to the primary school. Each of them was planning to kill 500 people. However, Turghunjan disrupted their plan.

Hearing details of what had happened to his son was a source of great pain for Tursun. He went to the spot where his son was brutally killed the next afternoon. "There remained some blood on the ground, and I was sitting there, looking at the blood and crying. All I had in my mind was the scene where my son was hacked to death. I could even hear him cry, "Dad, Dad!'"

"I couldn't stop thinking afterward that if someone had known about the terrorists' conspiracy in advance, they might not have caused so many deaths, and my son might still be alive. If my son hadn't gone over to question them repeatedly, he probably wouldn't have been killed. My son is now recognized as a martyr; he sacrificed his life for the safety of many civilians, and I am proud of that, but with my son gone, everything is gone," said Tursun.

"I hate these terrorists and separatists, as they have ruined my family. I can't even control myself if anyone mentions the terrorist attack in front of me. I hate those terrorists to the bones!" said Tursun. 

The first installment of the report of the

The first installment of the report of the "Victims and Survivors of Terrorism in China: An Oral History" Photo: Courtesy of ICBG

'We must not fear terrorism'

Grain and cooking oil store owner Wang Tiancheng, 59, on Xingfu Road in Yecheng, also recalled the details of the tragic day. On February 28, 2012, while standing in front of his store at around 5.50 pm, Wang noticed the eruption of chaos as he saw market operators running and screaming.

"At that moment, I was standing with my back to the back door while facing the entrance (of the market). Then I felt like someone had cut me. I felt it, but I still had no idea what was happening. After the first blow, two people (the terrorists) faced me," said Wang.

"They (terrorists) were holding an ax in one hand and a machete in the other, and their axes were so big, and the machetes were so long. So, they hacked me with the machete right on my head and shoulder. Later, when I got my wounds examined, the doctor told me that this bone on my shoulder would have been broken if the machete had gone half a centimeter deeper," he noted. 

Wang said that they did expect a terror attack, but they came prepared. He and the terrorist were close to each other. When Wang saw what the terrorist was holding, his first thought was, "Oh no, he's going to kill me."

"At the same time, I realized that I, at least, needed to grab something to fend off the attack as I was unarmed, so I grabbed the chair, and his ax was coming at me at the same time. I smashed the chair on him immediately. I was wounded here when he was hacking at me haphazardly, but luckily the rest of my body wasn't injured. If I had not blocked that blow or reacted any slower, the consequences would have been much severer," said Wang. 

Wang could still remember the look on the terrorists' faces and said that a glance at the terrorist's eyes would have undoubtedly terrified someone with a weak constitution as he just wanted to kill people by directly aiming at people's necks or heads.

After hacking at Wang, these attackers went on to hack other people in the middle of Xingfu Road market, before turning back to attack people in the opposite direction. 

Wang left his shop and headed toward a seed company to the right of his store where he found the next-door shop owner hacked to death with a gash to the temple, along with two of the store's workers dead at the door. An old couple along with their grandson present at the store were also brutally attacked, with the elderly man dying on the spot, and his wife sustaining a head injury while trying to protect her grandson. 

Wang also recalled that one of the terrorists captured alive had made a habit of regularly visiting a naan bread maker in the market in the months leading up to the attack. When Wang looked into the terrorist's eyes, he always felt slightly uncomfortable. 

"His eyes seemed especially fierce, and I thought he was not a good guy. In the end, this attack was led by him, as he had visited the market several times and was familiar with the place," said Wang. 

Wang was treated at the hospital and was admitted for 46 days, later being diagnosed as having a 10-degree disability - the lowest disability level compared with other victims of the attack. He still exhibits certain sequelae now and then, and when the weather changes dramatically, his shoulders hurt.

"It's been 10 years since the terror attack, but I can still feel the horror whenever I recall it. To be honest, we were scared. But after the attack happened, the first thing we had to do was to stay calm, be brave, and try to fight back. It is the mentality I always uphold. We must not fear terrorism," Wang said. 

Wang Tiancheng, the owner of a grain & cooking oil shop on Xingfu Road in Yecheng county and a survivor of the Yecheng terror attack in 2012 Photo: Courtesy of ICBG

Wang Tiancheng, the owner of a grain & cooking oil shop on Xingfu Road in Yecheng county and a survivor of the Yecheng terror attack in 2012 Photo: Courtesy of ICBG

'China's anti-terrorism efforts legitimate'

"While working on this project, I have personally experienced a strong sense of trauma. When the survivors and relatives of victims recalled and retold their experiences, I was brought into that situation, especially when they showed me some wounds or talked about unforgettable experiences from that time; I have a strong sense of empathy," Zheng Liang, director of the ICBG, who initiated the project, told the Global Times. 

Zheng and his team started the research project titled "Victims and Survivors of Terrorism in China: An Oral History" in 2021, and searched for victims of terror attacks. 

So far, they have conducted interviews with over 60 witnesses of violent terror incidents that have happened in various places in Xinjiang region, including Hotan, Kashi, Turpan, and Urumqi, collecting over one million words worth of written records and over 90 hours of audio and video materials.

The first installment of the report on the project was released on January 18 at a seminar, which included the stories of Tursun and Wang, and four other victims of the terror attack that happened in Yecheng county on February 28, 2012. 

Researchers who attended the project seminar said that, for most of the interviewees, recalling the horrific experiences they had years ago was difficult and the interview always began after hours or days of psychological struggle.

The afterword of the report also cited a survivor as saying that the Yecheng terror attack caused significant impacts not only on one family but also on the whole county, and even the entire region. The case is a lingering shadow and pain in the hearts of many in Yecheng. 

He noted that the trauma suffered by ordinary people in these terror incidents is also insufficiently addressed. The absence of this group's voices sometimes leads to attacks on China, with some overseas organizations claiming that terrorism does not exist in China and that terror attacks are the result of oppression against ethnic minorities.

While talking about the reasons why he initiated the project, Zheng, who was born and raised in Xinjiang, mentioned the previous reports on terror attacks mainly focused on the causes of terrorism and violent incidents, while lacing in-depth interviews and reports on the victims.

Zheng told the Global Times that some foreign individuals and media outlets often fabricate politically motivated narratives, portraying the perpetrators of these terrorist acts as so-called "victims."

"But the perpetrators are perpetrators. They cannot be glorified as victims," said Zheng.

The expert also noted that through the project, they wish to provide factual materials for individuals who pay attention to Xinjiang region, and China's counterterrorism and de-radicalization efforts as this project would allow the international community to gain a better understanding that China, like other countries, has also suffered from terrorism and its counterterrorism work is absolutely legitimate.