China to execute 4 accused in Xinjiang violence

China's highest court approved the executions of four men convicted in a series of murders in the restive western region of Xinjiang described as acts of "terrorist violence."

The four were accused of killing nine people in three separate incidents between August and November of last year, the Xinjiang-based website reported Wednesday.

In the most serious act, six men detonated a bomb near where a security patrol was organizing Aug. 19. The website said three patrol members, three civilians and two of the attackers were killed and 15 people were injured.

Two of the accused were sentenced to death and two more given suspended death sentences that are usually commuted to life in prison with good behavior, the site said. It did not give a date when the court decided.

In the second case, a single shooter killed two men with a homemade gun Sept. 29. In the third case, a man stabbed one person to death and injured two others in an altercation Nov. 2 after the accused refused to stop his vehicle for a police inspection.

All those accused had names identifying them as Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim ethnic group that sees Xinjiang as its homeland. Many Uighurs resent heavy-handed rule from Beijing and the influx of large numbers of majority Han Chinese migrants, and Uighur radicals have for years staged a sometimes violent separatist movement.

Simmering tensions between Uighurs and Hans erupted in 2009 in Xinjiang's worst ethnic violence in over a decade. Uighurs attacked Hans, overturning buses and cars and torching shops in the regional capital of Urumqi in a riot the government says killed 197 people. In the aftermath, hundreds were arrested and about two dozen sentenced to death. Many other Uighurs remain unaccounted for and are believed to be in custody.

No motives were given in the three cases recently decided by the court, and Chinese authorities have sometimes been accused of mislabeling ordinary crimes as terrorist violence to discredit the separatist movement.

"The occurrence of these cases of terrorist violence is not an ethnic issue nor a religious matter. They harm the national interest and harm the mutual interests of all ethnic groups," the report said.

Approval of death sentences by the People's Highest Court is the final step before executions are carried out, but it's not known when the men will be executed.

China is believed to execute more people each year than the rest of the world combined, but exact figures are not known. Activist groups' estimates vary widely — from several hundred to several thousand annually.