Goh Chai Hin / AFP / Getty Images

Officials now say 50 died in Xinjiang blasts

Authorities originally said Sunday explosions in Uighur homeland killed at least two, injured many

Chinese state media reported Thursday that 50 people, including 40 assailants, were killed in a series of explosions over the weekend in the far western region of Xinjiang, in what officials called a severe terror attack.

Regional authorities had earlier said that the explosions Sunday in Luntai county killed at least two people and injured many others.

The news portal Tianshan Net said Thursday night that bombs exploded at two police stations, a produce market and a store. It said the attack killed two police officers, two police assistants and six bystanders, and that 54 others were injured. It said police took swift action and 40 assailants were either shot dead or died in explosions.

Police captured two attackers, and an investigation found that Maimaiti Tuerxun, a man who was fatally shot, was responsible for the attack, the news portal said. The official Xinhua News Agency spelled the man's name as Mamat Tursun. Names for people from the Uighur and other ethnic groups in China are sometimes transcribed differently in English.

Xinjiang police said it was an "organized and serious" terrorist attack, according to Xinhua, which reported a police investigation of the dead suspect found he “been operating as an extremist since 2003” and “called on other people to join his terrorist group when working on construction projects.”

Regional authorities were not available for comment Thursday night.

A nurse on duty the night of the explosions told Radio Free Asia that the local hospital was filled with people with serious injuries. “I assume there are about 100 people with injuries because all the hospital beds are occupied right now,” the nurse said.

Among those undergoing treatment were up to 20 policemen, as well as one suspected attacker, she said. 

Ethnic tensions in Xinjiang, the resource-rich home of the Muslim Uighur minority group, have killed more than 300 people in the past year and a half. Chinese authorities have blamed the unrest on foreign-influenced terrorists seeking a separate state. Many Muslim Uighurs bristle under Beijing's heavy-handed restrictions on their religious life and resent the influx of the Chinese Han majority into their homeland.

On Tuesday, a court gave a life sentence to a Uighur scholar who has criticized China's ethnic policies and sought to reduce tensions between Uighurs and the Han majority. The court found Ilham Tohti guilty of separatism, saying he incited ethnic hatred and instigated violence.

Authorities have also launched a one-year crackdown on terrorism in Xinjiang, and Chinese state media applauded guilty verdict as a victory in that campaign.

Scholars and human rights advocates say the strike-hard campaign could further radicalize the Uighur people and result in more violence.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press 

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