URUMQI, China – China on Monday blamed Muslim extremists trained in Pakistan for launching one of two deadly weekend attacks in a troubled far western region, while overseas activists feared the government could respond by cracking down on ethnic Uighurs widely blamed for the unrest.
Sunday's attack left 11 dead, including five suspected assailants, in the Silk Road city of Kashgar.
Authorities have not pinpointed suspects behind clashes a day earlier in the city that killed seven, including one of two men who allegedly hijacked a truck and rammed it into a crowd.
The weekend violence raised tensions across the Xinjiang region on China's western frontier, which has been under tight security since 2009 when almost 200 people were killed in fighting between Han Chinese and minority Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group that sees Xinjiang as its homeland.
The German-based World Uyghur Congress said it feared the violence could prompt a government crackdown on Uighurs still blamed for the unrest two years ago.
Kashgar issued warrants and offered 100,000 yuan ($16,000) for information leading to the arrest of two Uighur suspects allegedly seen fleeing the scene of Sunday's attack. The city said a "group of armed terrorists" had stormed a restaurant and killed the owner and a waiter before setting fire to the building.
The suspects then ran out into the street and stabbed civilians at random, killing another four people and injuring 12, the city said. Police fired at the suspects, killing four on the scene while a fifth died later in a hospital.
The city said Monday an initial investigation showed members of the group allegedly behind Sunday's attack had been trained in explosives and firearms in Pakistani camps run by the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group advocating independence for Xinjiang. It offered no proof in the statement on its website. China says the group is allied with Al Qaeda.
Pakistan, a key ally to China, condemned the violence and offered support in combating the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. A Foreign Ministry statement said it was "fully confident" the people of Xinjiang autonomous region and the Chinese government "will succeed in frustrating evil designs of the terrorists, extremists and separatists, who constitute an evil force."
Xinjiang region has been beset by ethnic conflict and a sometimes-violent separatist movement by Uighurs, who say they have been marginalized as more majority Han Chinese move into the region.
The Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang held an emergency meeting in Urumqi after the attacks and ordered a crackdown on religious extremism and "illegal religious activities," the official Xinhua News Agency said.
"People in Xinjiang should stay vigilant and recognize that terrorist attackers are the 'common enemies of all ethnic groups,"' Zhang Chunxian was quoted as saying.
A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, which advocates nonviolence, said Uighurs were increasingly staging protests against their treatment within China.
"Uighurs have no peaceful way to oppose the Chinese government, so some have taken to extreme measures. It is unthinkable, but it is the reality, and Beijing should take responsibility to deal with these issues," Dilxat Raxit told The Associated Press from his base in Sweden.
Deadly clashes Saturday in Kashgar, after two knife-wielding men hijacked a truck and rammed it into a crowd, left seven people dead and injured 22 injured. A police official said that after leaving the truck, the men had started attacking individuals who retaliated and killed one of the attackers while capturing the other. The attack was being investigated and the motive still unclear, said the official from the Xinjiang regional public security bureau, who refused to be identified by name as is common with Chinese officials.
China defends its treatment of minorities, saying all ethnic groups are treated equally and that tens of billions of dollars in investment and aid have dramatically raised living standards.
Police patrolled Kashgar on Monday, but locals said security is usually strong in Xinjiang's main cities.
"I took a bus to work as usual this morning and saw police armed with rods patrolling on streets," said a woman at Hua'an International Travel Service, who only gave her surname, Zhao. "Seven or eight of them were in a group, but the police patrol the streets everyday."
Xinjiang is China's Central Asian frontier, bordering Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia and other countries. Kashgar was an important hub on the ancient route through which Chinese silk and other goods reached Europe.