More than 10 knife-wielding attackers slashed people at a train station in southwestern China late Saturday in what authorities called a terrorist attack by Uighur separatists, and police fatally shot four of the assailants, leaving 33 people dead and 130 others wounded, state media said.
The attackers, most of them dressed in black, stormed the Kunming train station in Yunnan province and started attacking people in the late evening, witness Yang Haifei told the official Xinhua News Agency from a hospital where he was being treated for chest and back wounds.
“I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone,” he told Xinhua, adding that people who were slower ended up severely injured. “They just fell on the ground,” Yang said.
One suspect was arrested, Xinhua said. Evidence found at the scene of the attack showed that it was “a terrorist attack carried out by Xinjiang separatist forces,” the agency quoted the municipal government as saying. Authorities considered it to be “an organized, premeditated violent terrorist attack.”
The far western region of Xinjiang is home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule by separatists among parts of the Muslim Uighur population.
Most attacks blamed on Uighur separatists take place in Xinjiang, but Saturday’s assault took place more than 620 miles to the southeast in Yunnan, which has not had a history of such unrest. However, a suicide car attack blamed on Uighur separatists that killed five people at Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate last November raised alarms that militants may be aiming to strike at targets throughout the country.
In an indication of how seriously authorities viewed the attack — one of China’s deadliest in recent years — the country’s top police official, Politburo member Meng Jianzhu, was on route to Kunming, the Communist Party-run People’s Daily reported.
The violence in Kunming came at a sensitive time as political leaders in Beijing prepared for Wednesday’s opening of the annual meeting of the nominal legislature where the government of President Xi Jinping will deliver its first one-year work report.
Xi called for ‘’all-out efforts” to bring the culprits to justice. In a statement, the Security Management Bureau under the Ministry of Public Security said that police will “crack down the crimes in accordance with the law without any tolerance.”
A Xinhua reporter on the scene in Kunming said several suspects had been “controlled” while police continued their investigation of people at the train station. The reporter said firefighters and emergency medical personnel were at the station and rushing injured people to hospitals for treatment.
Authorities said five suspects were shot dead but that their identities had not yet been confirmed, and police were hunting for the remaining attackers, Xinhua reported.
More than 60 victims of Saturday’s attack were taken to Kunming No. 1 People’s Hospital, where at least a dozen bodies also could be seen, according to Xinhua reporters at the hospital.
At a guard pavilion in front of the train station, three victims were crying. One of them, Yang Ziqing, told Xinhua that they were waiting for a train to Shanghai when a knife-wielding man suddenly came at them.
“My two town-fellows’ husbands have been rushed to hospital, but I can’t find my husband, and his phone went unanswered,” Yang sobbed.
Footage on China’s state broadcaster CCTV showed a heavy police presence near the station and plainclothes agents wrapping a long knife in a plastic bag as investigators collected evidence following the attacks.
Pictures on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, showed bodies covered in blood at the station.
The Kunming railway station, located in the southeastern area of the city, is one of the largest in southwest China.
“Severely punish in accordance with the law the violent terrorists and resolutely crack down on those who have been swollen with arrogance,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.
“Understand the serious and complex nation of combating terrorism,” Xi said. “Go all out to maintain social stability.”
Domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu was on his way to the scene, Xinhua said.
Weibo users took to the service to describe details of what happened, though many of the posts were quickly deleted by government censors, especially those that described the attackers, two of whom were identified by some as women.
Others condemned the attack.
“No matter who, for whatever reason, or of what race, chose somewhere so crowded as a train station, and made innocent people their target – they are evil and they should go to hell,” wrote one user.
The attack comes at a sensitive time as China gears up for the annual meeting of parliament, which opens in Beijing on Wednesday and is normally accompanied by a tightening of security across the country.
China has blamed similar incidents in the past on Islamist militants operating in the restive far western region of Xinjiang, though such attacks have generally been limited to Xinjiang itself.
China says its first major suicide attack, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October, involved militants from Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people, many of whom chafe at Chinese restrictions on their culture and religion.
Hu Xijin, editor of the influential Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, wrote on his Weibo feed that the government should say who it suspected of the attack as soon as possible.
“If it was Xinjiang separatists, it needs to be announced promptly, as hearsay should not be allowed to fill the vacuum,” Hu wrote.
NY Daily News