China today blamed Islamic militants from the volatile Xinjiang province for an attack by knife-wielding “terrorists” at a railway station in Kunming city that left at least 33 people dead and 130 injured.
The incident occurred when a group of militants armed with knives and swords attacked people randomly at the crowded Kunming railway station in the capital of southwest China’s Yunnan Province last night causing panic all around.
“It was an organised, premeditated violent terrorist attack,” state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.
Police shot dead at least four attackers and are hunting for the rest, it said, adding that more than 10 “terrorist suspects” were involved in the attack.
Evidence at the crime scene showed that the attack was orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist forces, the municipal government of Kunming said today.
TV footage showed police recovering swords carried by some of the members of the group.
This is first time militants allegedly belonging to the banned East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is fighting for the independence of Muslim Uygur majority Xinjiang province, has carried out such a major attack outsides their province.
Last year three members of a family including two men tried to carry out an attack at the Forbidden city near the Tiananmen square here. Four people were killed in that attack.
Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and Afghanistan, witnessed several violent attacks by the militants stated to be from ETIM, an al-Qaeda linked group fighting for independent Xinjiang.
For several years the province experienced ethnic unrest between native Muslim Uygurs and the Han national from the Chinese mainland for the past few years over the increasing settlements of Hans in the region.
Currently the investigation to the case is underway.
Injured people have been rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. According to Kunming railway bureau, train departures have not been affected.
The authorities vowed to crack down on violent terrorist activities in all forms and guarantee the safety of people’s lives and property, Xinhua said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked the law enforcement to investigate the case with all-out efforts and punish the terrorists in accordance with the law.
Xi stressed the careful rescue and treatment of the injured civilians and proper handling of the dead, which include 29 people and four terrorists.
He called for full awareness of the grave and complicated situation of anti-terrorism and effective measures to crack down violent terrorist activities in all forms.
Xi has assigned senior officials, including Meng Jianzhu, head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, and Guo Shengkun, Chinese state councilor and minister of public security, to rush to Yunnan to guide work and assist investigations.
Premier Li Keqiang asked relevant departments to catch and punish the terrorists and instructed public security departments at all levels to strengthen prevention and control measures to guarantee the safety of public places.
A Xinhua reporter on the spot said injured people have been rushed to more than 10 local hospitals for treatment. One report said a dozen of bodies were kept at the hospital.
Meng, who arrived this morning, said the case was a grave violent terrorist attack that caused untold damage to people’s lives and property.
He investigated the crime scene at the station, where he listened to the report of local officials handling the case.
“The terrorists are conscienceless and extremely brutal,” Meng said, adding the sins of the attackers are unbearable, Xinhua quoted him as saying.
Meng called for timely treatment for the injured and assistance for the families of the deceased. He said relative departments should spare no effort in investigating the case, catching the assailants at large with all-out efforts, and punishing them in accordance with the law, in order to safeguard the sanctity of the law and ensure social stability.
“At first I thought it was just someone fighting, but then I saw blood and heard people scream, and I just ran,” said Liu Chen, a 19-year-old student from Wuhan City of central China’s Hubei Province, who was travelling in Yunnan.
Liu and her friend were at the station for tickets to the tourism city of Lijiang when the attack suddenly happened.
Chen Guizhen, a 50-year-old woman, said at the hospital that her husband Xiong Wenguang, 59, was killed in the attack.
Yang Haifei, a local resident of Yunnan, said he was attacked and sustained injuries on his chest and back.
Yang said he was buying a ticket when he saw a group of people rush into the station, most of them in black, and start attacking others.
Pictures on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, show local police patrolling the station. Bodies in blood can be spotted on the ground in the pictures. Doctors were seen transporting injured to a local hospital.