Court upholds death sentences for 3 conspirators in train station attack that killed 31 people

A Chinese court on Friday upheld the death sentences of three men convicted of organizing the brutal knife attack that killed 31 people earlier this year outside a railway station in the southern city of Kunming.

The Higher People's Court of Yunnan Province rejected appeals and upheld sentences handed out last month by a lower court, saying that the three men "all played a role in organizing, leading and plotting the terrorist activities at the Kunming Railway Station."

The railway station attack in March shook the country as tensions between the Uighur Muslim minority and the majority Han ethnic group spread beyond the Uighur homeland of Xinjiang. The knifing rampage raised fears of terrorist attacks throughout the country.

Five knife-wielding assailants hacked 31 people to death and injured 141 on March 1 before police were able to subdue them. Four of the assailants were shot dead at the scene. The only assailant captured alive was a pregnant woman, Patigul Tohti, who was later sentenced to life in prison on charges of joining a terror group and murder.

The three men sentenced to death, Iskandar Ehet, Turgun Tohtunyaz and Hasayn Muhammad, had been charged with organizing and leading a terror group and murder.

The sentences of all four defendants were upheld by the court Friday.

Local authorities arrested Ehet, Tohtunyaz and Muhammad two days before the attack while they were attempting to illegally leave China, the court said. Having lost the contact with the three men, the five other members of the group mounted the attack as planned, the court said.

Beijing has blamed religion-influenced terrorists with foreign ties for the Kunming attack and other violence that has caused hundreds of deaths this year in and outside Xinjiang. Critics say China's repressive ethnic policies and practices as well as economic disenfranchisement have alienated the Uighurs, possibly driving them into religious extremism.