China has launched an international manhunt for the alleged mastermind behind an attack at a train station last month blamed on suspects from the Uighur ethnic group.
The official China Daily newspaper said on Monday that a request had been submitted to Interpol for the arrest of Ismail Yusup and an unspecified number of associates.
The report said that Yusup was a member of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and organised the April 30 attack in the capital of Xinjiang region that killed three people and injured 79 others, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Beijing says an organised group with elements based overseas is behind a rising number of attacks in the country.
However, little evidence has been provided to back up the claim and many analysts doubt such an organisation exists in a form that would allow it to organise attacks.
China had previously said the attack, in which explosives and knives were used, was carried out by two separatists who were killed in the blast.
East Turkistan is the name used for Xinjiang, in China’s north-west, by some members of the region’s native Uighur ethnic group.
Some Uighurs have been fighting a low-intensity insurgency against Chinese rule.
The United Nations initially placed the East Turkistan Islamic Movement on a ‘terrorist watch list’ following the September 11 attacks but later quietly removed it amid doubts that it existed in any organised manner.
It is still listed as a terrorist group by the UN, over which China has considerable sway as one of five permanent veto-holding members of the Security Council.
The state-run news agency, Xinhua, said Yusup ordered 10 “partners” in Xinjiang to prepare for the attack in the city of Urumqi about a week before it happened. The 10 set off explosives and slashed people with knives at the station exit on the evening of April 30.
Two of the members were killed in the explosion and the remaining eight were captured by police, it said.
Rising tide of violence
Uighur separatist groups have been blamed for a rising tide of violence in Xinjiang and other parts of China, including the capital Beijing.
In another high-profile attack blamed on Uighur groups, five knife-wielding men and women slashed at crowds indiscriminately at a railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming in March, killing 29 people.
While China faults separatists for raising ethnic tensions, government critics say restrictive and discriminatory religious, cultural and economic policies have alienated the Uighurs.
Migration from China’s majority Han ethnic group have largely marginalised Uighurs in their homeland and excluded them from decision-making.
Beijing has responded to the violence with an overwhelming security presence and imposed additional restrictions on Uighur travel rights, culture and religious practices.