Policemen guard the attack site on Sunday. (AFP)
Hong Kong, March 2: The 10 or so attackers, dressed in black and wearing cloth masks, arrived in front of a train station in southwest China on a weekend night and began slashing at employees and commuters, sometimes repeatedly plunging their long knives into people too stunned or slow to flee.
By the time the police shot dead four assailants and ended the slaughter, the square and ticket sales hall at the Kunming railway station had been turned into a display of corpses and moaning survivors in pools of blood — and an alarming rebuff to the Chinese government’s vows to bring stability to the ethnically divided far-western region where it said the attackers came from.
China’s official state-run news agency, Xinhua, which gave the account of the attack on Saturday night, said that at least 29 people had died and 143 were wounded in the attack in Kunming, the regional capital of Yunnan Province.
The city government said the killings were terrorism, planned and perpetrated by separatists from Xinjiang, the far western Chinese region where members of the Uighur minority are at odds with the government, and President Xi Jinping also called the perpetrators “terrorists.” So far, no group has claimed responsibility.
Residents in Kunming said they felt stunned that the city, best known as a warm, leafy tourist destination, could suffer such a spasm of bloodshed.
“It happened too suddenly. I don’t think anybody saw it coming,” Du Zhenwu, a 48-year-old resident who lives near the Kunming train station, said in a telephone interview. He repeated rumours, unsupported by the government, that dozens of attackers were still at large.
The widespread public revulsion and fear unleashed by the attack is likely to shore up the Chinese government’s position that its pervasive security controls in Xinjiang are justified and that even tighter policies are justified there and elsewhere.
As well as shooting and killing four attackers, the police captured one, the website of The People’s Daily said. The police were pursuing the other suspects, a Xinhua report said.
China’s Communist Party leadership has responded by vowing tougher measures against the perpetrators of such violence.
The bloodshed occurred five days before China’s party-run Parliament, the National People’s Congress, starts its annual session, a time when the country’s security services are doubly alert, and the attack may have been timed to upset preparations, Pan Zhiping, an professor at Xinjiang University, said.