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.
CCTV interviews the SWAT team leader who says he shot five of the assailants in 15 seconds, killing four of them. Via South China Morning Post:
The SWAT team leader sent to a Kunming train station as knife-wielding attackers hacked passengers to death said he shot five of the suspects in 15 seconds, preventing more bloodshed.
After firing two warning shots, the officer shot a masked woman who lunged at him with a knife, before rapidly shooting another four of the attackers, the Legal Daily newspaper reported.
In the Telegraph, Malcolm Moore questions whether the Kunming attack shows that China has “become a target for Islamic militants.” He quotes Dru Gladney, the author of Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic:
“What you have in Xinjiang are social eruptions and personal vendettas. This felt more like radical Islam, maybe an imitation of the Mumbai attacks or the Chechen attacks, although they did not take hostages or attack infrastructure.
“It was for shock appeal rather than a strategic effort. But attacking civilians is a game changer.”
Prof Gladney noted that the attackers were all dressed in black “which is not typical of Uighurs and may be more likely the influence of South East Asian groups”.
He added: “Their knives were not Xinjiang knives, which tend to be ornate, with colourful stones and glass, and their flag was the wrong colour. The flag of East Turkestan is a light blue, this one is a dark blue or black and the writing is Arabic not Uighur, and poorly done.”
Flag of East Turkestan Uyghur Separatists found at scene of Kunming attack. Police investigations still under way. pic.twitter.com/LoHJjd8RhX
— Phoenix TV News UK (@PhoenixUKNews) March 3, 2014
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) March 2, 2014
Official Chinese media have gone on the offensive condemning Western media and governments for failing to use the word “terrorism” when reporting on the Kunming attacks. A graphic produced by People’s Daily and widely distributed online compared the terminology used by English-language media sources when reporting this weekend’s violence in China with the 2013 murder of British soldier Lee Rigby. But some observers pointed out factual errors in their analysis:
Chart in that people's daily online article, w English pic.twitter.com/K14TEKF0Fn
— Bill Bishop (@niubi) March 3, 2014
— Samuel Wade (@samuel_wade) March 3, 2014
Many in China were angered by the U.S. government’s initial response, which called the attacks a “senseless act of violence,” but stopped short of calling it an act of terrorism. Today, this changed when State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki responded to a question from Phoenix TV that it, “appears to be an act of terrorism targeting random members of the public.” The United Nations has also called it a, “‘most heinous’ terrorist attack.”
Chinese might want to think twice before they start adopting the U.S.’s politically charged, post-Sept. 11 enthusiasm for labeling terrorists and terror attacks. Painting with a broad brush hasn’t helped Beijing quell an upsurge of violence in restive Xinjiang province thus far, and it isn’t likely to solve the problem at hand.
The issuing body of the following propaganda directive has been omitted to protect the source.
When reporting on the Kunming railway station terrorist attack, all media must use Xinhua News Agency wire copy. Media may publish a moderate amount of criticism and Internet commentary which oppose terrorism and violence and which condemn the killers. However, do not hype this incident. (March 1, 2014)
The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online.
State Council Information Office: Media that report on the knife attack incident that occurred March 1 at the Kunming railway station must strictly adhere to Xinhua News Agency wire copy or information provided by local authorities. Do not treat the story with large headlines; do not publish grisly photos. Please respond to confirm that you have received this message. Thank you. (March 1, 2014)
CDT collects directives from a variety of sources and checks them against official Chinese media reports to confirm their implementation. Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. The original publication date on CDT Chinese is noted after the directives; the date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source.
Chinese authorities now say they have killed or captured all the assailants in Saturday’s attack. Tania Branigan at the Guardian reports:
“Of an eight-member group (six men, two women), four were shot dead by police at the scene, a wounded woman was arrested and the other three have been captured,” said the official Xinhua news agency. It cited a statement from the Ministry of Public Security, which identified the leader of the gang as Abdurehim Kurban.
Previous reports said more than 10 people were involved. No explanation of the discrepancy was given.
[…] Earlier on Monday, a state newspaper warned that China must adopt expensive and controversial measures to prevent further terrorist attacks.
“To guard against the terrorists from East Turkestan [Xinjiang] doing evil things, we must introduce additional measures for Chinese society outside Xinjiang. It is expensive, necessary and especially sensitive, and it will bring a series of inconveniences, and result in some controversy,” said the editorial in the Global Times.
Read also Global Times’ special news page compiling news and commentary about the attack.
Writer Wang Lixiong has posted excerpts from his 2007 book, My West China; Your East Turkestan as a response to this weekend’s violence. China Change has translated them.. He writes:
CCP’s policies in Xinjiang today have been escalating the ethnic tension. Continuing on that path, it will not take long to reach the point of no return where all opportunities for healthy interaction will be lost, and a vicious cycle pushes the two sides farther and farther apart. Once reaching that point of no return, Xinjiang will likely become the next Middle East or Chechnya.
[Light a candle for our innocent compatriots. Kunming March 1, 2014. From CCTV]
While news of the attack first broke on Weibo, as reported by Foreign Policy, it has also been widely reported in Chinese media, despite initial reports that it was absent from many front pages there.
"News of Kunming attack absent from China's front pages" on @shanghaiist NONSENSE – it's on Ppl's Daily, BJ Eve News, Xinhua home page etc.
— Jeremy Goldkorn 金玉米 (@goldkorn) March 3, 2014
Xinhua posted the report linking the attack to “Xinjiang separatist forces” in English before Chinese:
Xinhua: "Kunming violence launched by Xinjiang separatist forces" In English but not yet in Chinese… http://t.co/ZIa2U2poaz
— Jeremy Goldkorn 金玉米 (@goldkorn) March 1, 2014
BBC sums up Chinese media coverage including condemnation from some quarters of the Western media for “defending” the assailants. In their English edition, Global Times issued a particularly strident message to anyone who would express sympathy for the attackers, in an article titled, “Nothing justifies civilian slaughter in China’s ‘9-11′”.
Witnesses and victims have described the attacks on Weibo and to journalists. Tom Phillips at the Telegraph describes the scene:
What is known is that at around 9.15pm a group of at least 10 people, including men and women, were seen fanning out across a waiting area in front of the station’s main entrance carrying machetes and knives.
They were dressed in black and some wore masks, survivors said. They had come to kill.
“It was absolutely terrifying,” said Wang Hongli, a 23-year-old tourism student, whose scalp was sliced open by one attacker.
Ms Wang’s boyfriend, who declined to give his name, said the couple had been buying tickets to the historic town of Lijiang when a man hurtled towards them, “randomly hacking people”.
“He hacked aimlessly, randomly, everywhere. And after a while he left.”
Armed riot police stood guard as people streamed into the railway station on Sunday only hours after the attack, one of the worst of its kind in China in recent memory.
Standing near shops about 50 meters from the site, a parking attendant surnamed Chen said he could not believe what was happening when he saw the attackers.
“I walked out and I saw a person with a knife this big, Chen said, spreading his arms wide.
“Then I saw five or six of them. They all had knives and they were stabbing people madly over by the first and second ticket offices,” he said.
From Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley at the New York Times:
By the time the police shot dead four assailants and ended the slaughter, the square and ticket sales hall at the station were strewn with bodies and moaning survivors in pools of blood. According to the state news media, 29 people were killed and 143 wounded. The police captured one of the assailants but several others were said to be still at large. Witnesses said that at least one of the attackers was a woman.
The rampage, which the authorities said was carried out by assailants from the Xinjiang region in China’s far west, was an alarming rebuff to the government’s vows to bring stability to the ethnically divided region that has been convulsed by mounting violence.
Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, officials on Sunday described the killings as an act of terrorism planned and perpetrated by separatists from Xinjiang, where members of the Uighur minority are increasingly at odds with the government. According to the official Xinhua news service, President Xi Jinping deplored the attack and called for “an all-out effort to punish the terrorists.”
Jonathan Kaiman, reporting from Kunming, and Tania Branigan record more first-hand accounts for The Guardian:
One of the 130 survivors injured in the incident described fleeing in terror as a man lashed out with a long knife, nicking his scalp. “I was terrified … they attacked us like crazy swordsmen, and mostly they went for the head and the shoulders, those parts of the body to kill,” 20-year-old student Wu Yuheng told Reuters as he lay on a bed in a corridor of the Kunming Number One People’s hospital.
[…] A doctor at the hospital described a scene of bedlam as scores of the seriously injured arrived. He told the Guardian the attackers appeared to be well trained because many of the cuts directly targeted internal organs. He said police were stationed in patients’ rooms and doctors had been shown a notice ordering them not to divulge information on the injured, including their condition and how many there were. They were told to tell families the government would arrange compensation.
Dong, a 50-year-old street vendor from the countryside, was trying to buy a train ticket home to visit his sick mother when he was hacked.
“His whole face was covered in blood,” his wife described the sight greeting the family at the hospital, which has received most of the people injured in the attack.
“We’re now waiting for him to go through surgery,” said Huixian, the 17-year-old daughter. “But those with even more severe injuries need to be operated on first.”
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