Three Security Officials Killed in W. China

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 12 -- Three security officials were killed at a roadside checkpoint in western China's Xinjiang region Tuesday when at least one assailant jumped off a passing vehicle and stabbed them to death, state media reported. It was the third deadly incident in nine days, coinciding with the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

A fourth security official was wounded in the attack in Yamanya town, according to the New China News Agency. The assailants were still at large.

The attack occurred around 9 a.m. as local government officials were checking the names of people passing through a checkpoint about 18 miles from Kashgar, the oasis town where 16 paramilitary border guards were killed in an attack Aug. 4. In a separate incident, assailants detonated explosives and clashed with police in the Xinjiang town of Kucha on Sunday; 10 attackers, one security guard and one bystander died, according to state media reports.

The spike in violence has claimed 31 lives in the restive desert region where China meets central Asia. It comes after a separatist group that calls itself the Turkestan Islamic Party released three videos threatening attacks during the Olympic Games, especially targeted at government and police facilities and key Olympic areas. Chinese government officials say they have no evidence the attacks are linked to separatist groups, but they have suggested that the attacks are terrorism.

Xinjiang is home to a large population of Uighurs, a primarily Muslim ethnic group that speaks a Turkic language and has long chafed under Chinese authority. The Chinese government responded with overwhelming force after sporadic bombings in the region during the 1990s. The area has been tense but mostly quiet for more than a decade.

Analysts believe Beijing's hosting of the Olympic Games has emboldened some to challenge the notion that China is a stable country with airtight security, as the government claims. "The pattern of attacks, three in a row during the Games with security forces on high alert, is an act of defiance that is unparalleled in recent Xinjiang history," said Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong.

Bequelin condemned the attacks as "unjustifiable" but said that "the global focus on China is an opportunity for people who believe their plight is ignored and invisible to take action."

Although the violence has been limited to a remote part of the country, killing handfuls, not hundreds, it is still surprising given the tight security that blankets Xinjiang.

"The concern here is that, at a minimum, this is going to add volatility to the region and polarize the Uighur and Chinese communities," Bequelin said. "There is also a fear the government will launch a widespread, indiscriminate, repressive campaign targeted far beyond the groups advocating use of violence."

Liu Jiangyong, a professor of national security at Tsinghua University's Institute of International Studies, said he expects more attacks in the region before the Games are over.

"We can see that the attackers are merciless fugitives, so the government should be on high alert," Liu said. "Because they cannot carry out such attacks in their most desirable cities like Beijing, they have to turn to local locations."

Despite the rudimentary weapons and homemade explosives used in the attacks, Liu said he suspects that international terrorist organizations are involved. He cited the well-coordinated planning of the incidents and the fact that two attackers blew themselves up in the Kucha bombings. "Their methods are quite similar to some other international terrorist attacks," Liu said.

The Chinese government has deployed more than 100,000 police and military personnel in Beijing to provide security during the Games. Despite the buildup, a lone man wielding a knife attacked an American family on Saturday, killing Todd Bachman, the father-in-law of the coach of the U.S. men's Olympic volleyball team. Bachman's wife, Barbara, was severely wounded in the incident.

Researcher Liu Songjie contributed to this report.

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