BEIJING (AFP) ― Chinese state media early Sunday said that 37 civilians and 59 “terrorists” had been killed in a terror attack in Xinjiang, home to China’s mainly Muslim Uighur minority, earlier in the week.
The official Xinhua news agency added that police had arrested 215 “terrorists” while 13 civilians had also been injured in Monday’s attack on a police station and government offices.
The attack occurred in Shache county, or Yarkand in the Uighur language, in Kashgar prefecture and was the latest in a series of violent incidents to have affected the vast region in recent months.
News of the clash first emerged late on Tuesday when Xinhua reported that dozens of people had been killed and injured by a knife-wielding gang.
A spokesman for the exile group World Uyghur Congress later said nearly 100 people had been killed or wounded.
Xinhua said that 35 of the dead civilians were Han Chinese while two were Uighers in its report on Sunday.
It added that police had confiscated knives from the scene as well as “banners that hailed holy war.”
The news agency cited the government as saying investigations showed the attack was “organised and premeditated”, and “in connection with the terrorist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement.”
Information in Xinjiang, in China’s far west, is often difficult to verify independently.
The region is home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, and Beijing has blamed a series of recent terror attacks on violent separatists from the vast, resource-rich area.
Such attacks have grown in scale and sophistication over the last year and have spread outside the restive region.
Among the most shocking was a May market attack in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in which 39 people were killed, and a deadly rampage by knife-wielding assailants at a train station at Kunming in China‘s southwest in March, which left 29 dead.
The violence has also included a fiery vehicle crash at Tiananmen Square, Beijing’s symbolic heart, in October.
On Friday, police in Xinjiang shot dead nine suspected terrorists and captured one, according to Xinhua.
That came two days after Jume Tahir, the government-appointed head of the largest mosque in China, was murdered after leading morning prayers.
Tahir was killed in the city of Kashgar by “three thugs influenced by religious extremist ideology,” the Xinjiang government web portal Tianshan reported.
Rights groups accuse China’s government of cultural and religious repression they say fuels unrest in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia.