Forty “rioters” were killed in China’s Xinjiang region following a series of explosions last Sunday, the regional government has said after a four-day news blackout.
Residents on Friday described heavy security in place days after the incidents – the worst incident of violence in months in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang, a resource-rich region in China’s far west which abuts Central Asia, is home to about 10 million Uighur Muslims, who mostly follow Sunni Islam.
Six civilians, two police officers and two auxiliary police were also killed in the attacks in Xinjiang’s Luntai county, with 54 civilians injured, the regional government’s news portal Tianshan said late on Thursday.
Two “rioters” were captured, it added, while the main suspect, whose name was given as Mamat Tursun, was killed.
Chinese state media had previously only stated that two people had been killed in the incident.
The ruling Communist Party tightly restricts access to the region, and information is difficult to independently verify.
Such a delay in the release of details is not uncommon.
Heavy security presence
Staff at hotels in Luntai county contacted by AFP news agency described a continuing heavy security presence.
“Security forces are still in the street,” said one receptionist.
A woman who answered the phone at another inn also gave an account of security out in force, and that business had suffered as “lots of people don’t come these days”.
According to the Tianshan report, the “organised and serious” attack comprised four explosions that took place on Sunday evening, targeting two police stations, an outdoor market and a shop.
Among the 54 civilians injured were 32 members of the mostly Muslim Uighur community and 22 Han Chinese, it said.
The 40 “rioters” killed had either blown themselves up or were shot by police, Tianshan said.
Police said that Mamat Tursun, the alleged ringleader of Sunday’s attack, had been “gradually developing into an extremist” since 2003 and had “called on other people to join his terrorist group when working on construction projects”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The violence in Luntai county erupted just two days before the sentencing of Ilham Tohti, 44, a prominent Muslim Uighur scholar who was on trial on charges of separatism.
Tohti, a former university professor who has been critical of China’s policies in Xinjiang, was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.
‘Hostility and division’
The US, the EU, and several human rights groups have called for the release of Tohti, 44, whose prosecution risks silencing moderate Uighur voices and cutting off the possibility of dialogue, analysts say.
Critics also gave warning that his conviction could add to tensions in the Xinjiang.
Teng Biao, a leading human-rights lawyer and friend of Tohti, wrote this week that rather than a life sentence, the academic should be awarded a Nobel prize.
“The Chinese communist authorities, with their excessive violence, have created hostility, division and despair in Xinjiang and Tibet,” Teng wrote in the Guardian newspaper.
“Tohti has denounced violence and devoted himself to bridging the divide and promoting understanding and tolerance.”
In the past year, escalating violence between locals and security forces in Xinjiang has claimed more than 200 lives and prompted Chinese authorities to launch a security crackdown.
Among the most shocking attacks was an assault in May on a market in the regional capital Urumqi, where more than 30 people were killed.