Liveblog: Attack in Kunming
Twenty-nine people have now been confirmed killed in the knife attack at the Kunming Train Station, as well as four assailants who were killed by police, one of whom was a woman, according to official media accounts. Four more suspects have been captured by police.
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While the stream of news about the Kunming attack has slowed to a trickle, mourners have gathered outside the Kunming train station to honor the dead. Meanwhile, some people are questioning the police response and asking whether some of the deaths could have been prevented. Zhuang Pinghui, Laura Zhou and Keith Zhai report for the South China Morning Post:
In the days since the attack, some, such as the China Law Society’s Communist Party chief, Chen Jiping, have questioned the police response to the incident and whether better policies might have saved lives.
Chen, who is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, said he was concerned that the SWAT team commander who shot the attackers may have waited too long to open fire.
The officer told state media that he shot the five assailants – four fatally – in 15 seconds. But he only did so after firing two warning shots and securing consent from a supervisor.
“It might be slow, but there definitely will be legislation,” Chen said. “In the future, a law should entitle police officers to certain rights when dealing with similar situations.”
The Communist Party chief of Xinjiang has named a new culprit in the train station attack: VPNs which allow Internet users to evade the Great Firewall. From Philip Wen at Fairfax Media:
Zhang Chunxian said the vast majority of violence in Xinjiang had been motivated by terrorists with access to the “fast flow of information” online.
“By that I mean more than 90 per cent of Xinjiang’s terrorism comes from jumping the [firewall], and accessing internet videos to create terrorism,” he said.
Officials are also blaming Internet users for spreading rumors after the attack, and have arrested 45 people for “creating a panicked mood and disturbing social order.” Jonathan Kaiman at the Guardian reports:
The suspects have been arrested for “deliberately creating a panicked mood and disturbing social order, and will be dealt with according to the law and punished by public security”, a branch of the country’s public security bureau posted to its official microblog on Thursday, without providing further details.
[…] While Xinhua identified the attackers’ ringleader as a man named Abdurehim Kurban, it has remained vague about their backgrounds and motivations. Officials have suggested that they wish to play down the attack’s ethnic and religious dimensions, possibly to avoid fanning further unrest.
Rumours have proliferated to fill the information vacuum. Some conjecture about the attack – including photos of a black T-shirt ostensibly worn by one of the attackers – has been scrubbed from Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular microblog.
With the NPC meetings now in full swing, the Chinese government is trying to refocus attention away from the March 1 attack in Kunming, according to this article in the New York Times. But critics say that the lack of information available about the attack and the assailants is leaving a void that is too easily filled with rumor and ethnic profiling:
Analysts outside China say the lack of transparency — as well as the authorities’ efforts to thwart reporting by foreign journalists in Xinjiang — impedes any meaningful examination of the motivating factors behind such bloodshed, including the possibility that religious restrictions, discrimination or draconian security measures in the region might be stoking Uighur discontent.
“When you think about the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, the American media immediately talked to the relatives of the suspects, helping the broader public understand how isolated these individuals were from the mainstream Muslim community,” said Prof. Dru C. Gladney, an anthropologist at Pomona College in California who studies Xinjiang. “By not providing more information, the government gives support to the stereotype that all Uighurs are terrorists.”
Some Chinese netizens are responding by calling for greater reflection on recent events and on relations between Han Chinese and Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China. One Renren user wrote: “My point is, the situation in Xinjiang is definitely more complicated than I’ve stated above. How do we unite the forces that can be united, how do we clean up more-than-a-handful of terrorists? It’s a very complicated situation. Simply treating all Uyghurs harshly will not solve the problem, but rather will push those mentioned in Section 4 over to the terrorists’ side.” Several of these messages have been censored from Weibo.
A Yunnan provincial government official has announced that they believe the Kunming attackers had attempted to go abroad to “wage a holy war” but were unable to, leading them to launch the attack in Kunming. Reuters reports:
Qin Guangrong, Communist Party chief of Yunnan province where Kunming is located, said that the eight attackers “originally wanted to participate in ‘jihad’,” state media, including Xinhua news agency, reported.
“They could not leave from Yunnan, so they looked elsewhere, and went to Guangdong province, but also could not leave, so they returned to Yunnan,” Qin was quoted as saying.
They then went to Yunnan’s Honghe county, which borders Vietnam, where they planned, if they were unable to leave the country from there, to carry out jihad either in Honghe or at railway or bus stations in Kunming, he added.
Qin said that “some people” who had been in contact with the eight were also in detention, though he gave no details.
But Radio Free Asia has offered another narrative which says the attackers fled to Yunnan after a crackdown in Hotan following another violent incident. Unable to leave the country, they carried out the attack in Kunming:
“I believe the attackers may have been a desperate group of Uyghurs who fled Xinjiang to Yunnan and were trapped there after the Chinese authorities discovered their plans to get across to Laos,” a Uyghur in Kunming told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The source said he suspects the eight had fled to Yunnan following a police crackdown in Xinjiang’s violence-hit Hanerik township in Hotan prefecture last year.
[…] In October, sources had told RFA that Chinese authorities had rounded up some 100 Uyghurs in Yunnan amid a hunt for seven suspects fleeing to the Lao border following the Hanerik clashes.
At least 30 Uyghurs were apprehended at the town of Mohan on the border with Laos in Yunnan’s Mengla county in late September, and scores of others were detained around the province, a Uyghur merchant who witnessed the arrest had told RFA.
Jason Ng of Blocked on Weibo has tested various Weibo search terms related to the Kunming attack and found the following are blocked:
恐怖 + 新疆 (terrorist + Xinjiang / has been blocked in past)
砍杀儿童 (children stabbed and killed / also connected to other past incidents)
新疆 + 昆明火车站 (Xinjiang + Kunming train station)
穆斯林 + 昆明火车站 (Muslim + Kunming train station)
维族 + 昆明火车站 (Uyghur + Kunming train station)
东突 + 昆明火车站 (East Turkestan Liberation Organization + Kunming train station)
Note: 昆明火车站 (Kunming train station) on its own is searchable.
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