BEIJING – BEIJING (AP) — Attackers who set off explosives in a restive region of far-western China that killed seven people and wounded 14 others were targeting security forces, the local government said Friday.
The attack a day earlier in Aksu city was the deadliest violence reported in Xinjiang — long beset by ethnic conflict and separatist violence — since rioting in the regional capital of Urumqi last year left about 200 dead, according to an official count.
The attackers threw explosives while driving a three-wheeled motor vehicle into a group of 15 police support officers who were getting into formation while on patrol, a report on the Aksu city website said, citing police spokesman Xiao Chunfeng.
It was not clear whether the police were uniformed or in civilian dress wearing red armbands, as is common in China for government officials in support roles.
Authorities have not said how many of the dead and injured were civilians.
The Aksu report did not say how many people were involved in the attack. Xinjiang government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin earlier said a man belonging to the region's native Uighur ethnic group was captured immediately, while the official Xinhua News Agency said a woman was also involved and died in the blast.
Local officials could not be reached for further comment. Hou's cell phone rang unanswered Friday and a man in the Aksu Communist Party propaganda office referred questions to the city government website and hung up.
Local residents reached by phone Friday said the security situation in Aksu, about 400 miles (650 kilometers) from Urumqi, was normal. They said authorities had not set up checkpoints or imposed a curfew, which has happened in the past after similar violence.
A Germany-based Uighur exile group said Thursday the victims included members of the local police force and its auxiliary unit.
Anti-government sentiment among Uighurs is fed by the Communist Party's heavy-handed control over their language, culture and Islamic faith, along with resentment of Chinese migrants who they believe are favored economically to the detriment of Xinjiang's native population.
The government claims attacks are often planned by exile Uighurs in other countries, including across the border in Central Asia or Pakistan.
In the July 2009 Urumqi riots, long-simmering tensions between the Turkic Muslim Uighurs and China's majority Han flared into open violence. Hundreds of people have been arrested and about two dozen sentenced to death, while many other Uighurs remain unaccounted for and are believed to be in custody.
Associated Press researcher Xi Yue contributed to this report.