Xinjiang Death Toll Rises to At Least 18

Following a series of attacks in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar over the weekend, the New York Times reports that the number of dead has risen to at least 18:

A weekend of violence in China’s far western Xinjiang region has left at least 18 people dead in the ancient city of Kashgar, state-controlled media reported Sunday. It was the second major episode of violence in the last several weeks in an area racked by ethnic tensions ….

Details of the latest bloodshed, limited to conflicting reports from the state media, were sketchy and could not be independently confirmed. Xinhua said that the violence in Kashgar broke out shortly before midnight on Saturday, about an hour after residents heard two explosions, one inside a minivan and the other along a popular street lined with food stalls. The reports quoted police officials as saying that two men later hijacked a truck, stabbed its driver to death and drove the vehicle to the street of food stalls, where they attacked people with knives.

According to local residents, “the city appeared calm and that traffic was flowing normally” on Sunday evening. The Washington Post, however, reported that a curfew was enforced later on:

Residents in telephone interviews and in postings on popular microblogging sites — which have become an alternative news source in China — reported Kashgar was under a strict curfew Sunday night. One resident posted on a microblog that armored vehicles had been dispatched to the area and people were remaining indoors. Some posted photos on their microblogging Weibo accounts.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based World Uigher Congress, said that from his information, “a curfew was imposed on the whole city of Kashgar, and more than 100 Uighers were detained. The incident is unbelievable, but we have to face it.”

Local authorities claim that the attacks originate from training camps in Pakistan, according to Xinhua:

The initial probe found that the group’s leaders had learned how to make explosives and firearms in overseas camps of the terrorist group “East Turkistan Islamic Movement” (ETIM) in Pakistan before entering Xinjiang to organize terrorist activities, the government of Kashgar City said in an online statement ….

Pan Zhiping, a researcher with the Central Asia Studies Institute under the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, called the ETIM “the most violent and dangerous” among the “East Turkistan” separatist forces. He said the organization is based somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The ETIM traditionally trains its members for suicide bombings and car bombings before sending them to Xinjiang. But today more are using the Internet to penetrate the border to spread bomb-making techniques, Pan and other long-time Xinjiang observers said.