Police gun down 8 'terrorists' in Xinjiang

Chinese officials say police in Xinjiang region killed eight after what they are calling a 'terrorist attack'

The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is in China's northwest.

Chinese police reportedly killed eight people after a "terrorist attack" in the country's northwestern Xinjiang region, which has been beset by persistent violence between Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs, the regional government said.

The eight were shot dead Monday after an attack on a police station in Yarkand County, close to the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, the government said in an official news website statement.

"At around 6:30 a.m., nine thugs carrying knives attacked a police station in Kashgar's Yarkand County, throwing explosive devices and setting police cars on fire," the brief statement said.

"The police took decisive measures, shooting dead eight and capturing one," it added, labeling the incident a "violent terrorist attack."

Earlier this month, police gunned down 14 people during a riot near Kashgar that killed two policemen.

And at least nine civilians and two policemen were killed in a separate outburst last month when people armed with axes and knives attacked a police station, also near Kashgar, state media said.

Chinese authorities have blamed the violence in Xinjiang on its substantial population of Muslims, who officials say are plotting a holy war in the region

Region of unrest

Human-rights groups have criticized the heavy-handed tactics used by police against the Muslim Uighur community, a Turkic ethnic group that calls the region home.

Violence broke out in the past when members of the Uighur community protested at police stations. In recent years Xinjiang has been the site of much unrest, which the government often blames on a number of separatist groups, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a group founded by Uighurs.

But rights groups have said China overplays the threat that Uighurs pose to justify its tight control of energy-rich Xinjiang, which strategically borders India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a number of major energy deals with Kyrgyzstan. In one of them, roughly half of $3 billion in expenditures were earmarked for constructing a pipeline to pump Kyrgyz oil to Xinjiang.

Activists like Beijing-based Ilham Tohti have told Al Jazeera that by cracking down on religious freedom, the Chinese government hopes to acculturate and pacify Uighur separatists, securing its investments.  

This year, in addition to a series of killings of people who, officials said, were Islamist extremists, in November local Chinese officials started barring Muslim women wearing headscarves from entering certain public venues and, in one documented instance, made Muslims bow before the Chinese flag at a Xinjiang mosque.

China recently increased security in Xinjiang after a vehicle plowed into tourists in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, killing five people. The government blamed "Islamic militants" for the attack.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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