But it is not a hostile city. Warm welcomes are offered by both the local ethnic Uighurs and the migrant Han Chinese alike.

Even the police who detained us as we tried to visit the site of a camp the government had said was a training centre for a group with links to al-Qaeda did so with apologetic friendliness.

Silk Road gateway

China says Xinjiang groups are plotting attacks on the Olympics [GALLO/GETTY]
The city that for centuries was the Silk Road gateway to China seems an unlikely place for an attack of the visciousness that Chinese state media says happened on Monday morning.

Farmers that spoke to us of their unhappiness with the local government had grievances about the lack of investment in their fields and roads and it seemed to be more of a question of water shortages, not religious differences.

Reaction in Beijing to the attack in Kashgar has been swift, with officials quick to identify violent groups they say are bent on founding a separate state in Xinjiang - the same groups that the Chinese government has consistently said pose the most serious threat to a peaceful Olympics.

But very little evidence has ever been provided to substantiate this threat, and all of it has come from the Chinese government itself.

It is always hard to pinpoint what drives a person to violence on this scale, but to characterise Kashgar as a hotbed of ethnic tension, as the government in Beijing appears to be doing, is to paint a very different picture of the city we recently visited.