Police in China’s restive Central Asia border region fatally shot seven members of a Muslim ethnic group in what officials said Thursday was an effort to end a kidnap by terrorists, but what a rights group said was extreme force.
Accounts from officials and government websites said police officers opened fire after they encounter resistance in a Wednesday night raid on a mountain hideout outside Hotan city to free two men kidnapped by “a violent terrorist group.”
Aside from the seven dead, four people were injured and another four were arrested, and while police freed the two hostages, one officer was killed and another injured, said an account on the official website of Xinjiang, the area where the incident took place. A spokeswoman for the Xinjiang government established the account and identified the kidnappers and their hostages as Uighurs, the indigenous, mainly Muslim ethnic group.
Long-simmering resentment among Uighurs over rule by China’s Han majority and influxes of Chinese migrants into Xinjiang has periodically erupted into violence. Separatist sentiment is rife, with some Uighurs advocating armed rebellion. A smaller fringe has been radicalized by radical calls for Muslim holy war and has been establish in training camps across the border in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
China has respond to the sporadic violence by raising the police presence, conducting raids and at times restricting the practice of Islam - moves that have further alienated many Uighurs and ratcheted up tensions.
China originally blamed that attack on Uighur terrorists trained overseas, and though the government regularly makes that accusation whenever violence erupts in Xinjiang, it has seldom provided proof to back up the claims of organized terrorism.