Blast in western Chinese city kills 7

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 19, 2010; 12:26 PM

BEIJING -- An attacker riding a three-wheeled vehicle attacked a contingent of security volunteers Thursday in Aksu city, in China's restive western region of Xinjiang, killing seven people and wounding 14 others in the first such incident since bloody ethnic rioting shook the area a year ago.

A statement posted late Thursday on the Web site of the autonomous Xinjiang regional government said the volunteers were on patrol and standing in a line when the attacker struck. The statement said five security force members died at the scene, and two others died later in a local hospital.

The attack occurred in Yoganqi township, on the outskirts of Aksu city, on the highway linking Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, to Kashgar in the west, the statement said.

"At 10:30 a.m., the violent criminal rode a motor tricycle and rushed toward a patrolling group, throwing an explosive device and triggering an explosion," the regional government said. It said the attack came when the 15-member patrol, led by an assistant police officer, reached a T-junction and lined up there. Several police motorcycles were damaged in the blast, it said.

After the attack, "one criminal suspect was caught at the scene," which was quickly cordoned off, the statement said.

Earlier, a spokeswoman for the Xinjiang government, Hou Hanmin described the arrested suspect as a member of the country's Muslim Uighur ethnic group. She said most of the victims also were Uighur and that some of the injuries were serious.

In a telephone interview, Hou said it was too early to say whether the suspect was connected with one of the separatist organizations that Beijing has labeled as terrorist groups. "The explosion was not an accident," Hou said. "It was an intentional, man-made explosion. Whether it's a terrorist attack or not, I can't draw that conclusion right now. We still need time to investigate."

According to an Aksu resident who works for a local transport company, the vehicle may have exploded after it was stopped by local security volunteers at a checkpoint.

"The sound was loud," he said when reached by telephone. "But I thought it was a tire of a vehicle exploding." He said his company had an emergency meeting and organized the workers to be on duty at night to patrol and look for any suspicious people.

Xinjiang had been under heavy security this summer, with authorities fearing another outburst of violence on the anniversary of the July 5, 2009, rioting in Urumqi between the minority Uighurs and the Han Chinese majority. The violence last year left nearly 200 people dead and many shops and businesses torched. Two dozen people were executed on charges of involvement in the rioting, and hundreds remain missing, presumably detained.

The Aksu resident said the added security in the city was relaxed this month, after the anniversary passed without incident.

Shortly before Thursday's explosion, the Xinjiang governor, Nur Bekri, told journalists that the region faces a "long and fierce and very complicated struggle," the Associated Press reported from Urumqi.

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