Suspects in China Market Attack Identified

The New York Times, 24 May 2014

BEIJING — Law enforcement officials in the western region of Xinjiang on Saturday identified five men they said were responsible for an attack on an outdoor vegetable market on Thursday that killed 43 people and injured more than 90, many of them elderly shoppers.

Four of the men were killed when the two vehicles they used to mount the attack exploded in Urumqi, the regional capital. They were identified through DNA analysis. The fifth suspect was captured Thursday night after escaping to a town about 150 miles south of the city, the police said.

The names of the five men suggested that they were members of the region’s Uighur minority, which has been implicated in an increasing number of violent attacks across the country in recent months, including a bombing at a train station in Urumqi three weeks ago that killed three people, including two of the assailants, and injured 79, the authorities said.

The police report issued Saturday said the five men responsible for the market attack were members of a “terrorist gang” from Pishan County, in the predominantly Uighur south of Xinjiang, and had been inspired by overseas jihadists. “They took part in illegal religious activities, watched and listened to terrorist violence video and audio materials,” the national broadcaster, CCTV, said on its website.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack; after previous violent episodes, the government has been quick to blame the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a murky organization said to operate in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt.

Some analysts have questioned the role of foreign militants in the mounting violence. Instead, they say, many of the earlier attacks that targeted police stations and government offices were probably the work of disaffected Uighurs seeking independence for Xinjiang, a geopolitically pivotal region that shares a border with several Central Asian nations, including Afghanistan, as well as Russia and Pakistan.

The attack in Urumqi was among the most sophisticated and lethal to date. According to a bulletin posted online by the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Public Security Bureau, the men formed a terrorist cell late last year, and over subsequent months bought two sports utility vehicles and materials to make the homemade explosive devices, which witnesses say they tossed from their vehicles as they sped through the crowd. Witnesses said that the devices resembled paint cans and that many of them failed to detonate.

Most of the dead, witnesses said, were struck by the two vehicles as they careened along North Park Street in the Shayibake District, an area largely populated by the city’s ethnic Han majority.

The vehicles had no license plates, and several people say at least one of the cars flew a black banner that bore script in the Uighur language, although none could identify the words.

On Friday, the authorities flooded the streets of Urumqi with thousands of soldiers, augmenting the heavy security presence put in place after ethnic rioting in 2009 killed at least 200 people and heightened after the train station bombing in late April.

In a posting on the Xinjiang Daily’s website on Saturday, Che Yuping, a top security official in the region, vowed to ratchet up pressure on separatist activity, part of a yearlong campaign the authorities announced in the wake of the market attack. “We shall never show mercy or a soft hand in cracking down on terrorism and crimes,” he said. “Law enforcement agencies will kill the confidence of the enemies and keep the peace of Xinjiang.”