Tag Archives: China terrorism

Kunming railway station attackers charged in mass stabbings

Image: CCTV

A SWAT team patrols the Kunming train station. Image: CCTV

In March of this year, a group of men and women armed with knives descended on the crowded Kunming Railway Station. Their ensuing rampage left 29 civilians dead and 143 injured in what is one of the most violent coordinated attacks to occur in China in recent memory. Four people accused of perpetrating the violence have been formally charged and will soon stand trial, Xinhuais reporting.

Official accounts of the attack state that six men and two women participated in the train station assault. Of those, four were shot and killed at the scene by police. One woman was subdued and arrested at the station, while three other suspects remained at large for 36 hours before being captured. No details of the manhunt or exactly how, where and when the fugitives were caught have ever been made public.

The four defendants stand accused of multiple crimes and will presumably face the death penalty if convicted. They have each been charged by the Kunming People’s Procuratorate, the city’s highest court, with participating in a terrorist organization, carrying out violent terrorist activities and premeditated homicide. No date has been publicly announced for a trial.

The outcome of the case is likely a foregone conclusion. Defendants tried by the government, especially in high-profile proceedings such as this, are generally found guilty following extremely short, closed-door judicial proceedings. A short, terse statement by prosecutors trying the four defendants appears to confirm this. It read, “The facts are clear and the evidence is ample. The four [suspects] should be investigated for criminal responsibility according to law and then prosecuted according to law.”

The defendants are all ethnic Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region and prosecutors maintain the March 1 attack was religiously and politically motivated. In a statement made shortly after the suspects were apprehended, Yunnan Party Secretary, Qin Guangrong,characterized the captured men and woman as Muslim terrorists, adding one had confessed to the crime and admitted the group wanted “to join jihad”.

China has significantly ramped up law enforcement and ‘anti-terror’ efforts following the bloodshed in Kunming. In many cities around the country, police officers are now permitted to carry sidearms for the first time in decades. Trials involving suspected militants have also increased, and 113 people were recently jailed for terrorism-related crimes by Xinjiang courts.

Click here to link to this article written by Patrick Scally, first published on July, 1 on the GoKunming website.

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The Kunming Train Station Attack: A Hypothesis

In answering the question “Why was Kunming chosen as the site of last Saturday’s attack?”consider the following:

In response to a police crackdown in Hotan, Xinjiang beginning in the summer of 2013, a large group of Uighurs attempted to make their way to Laos through Yunnan. Instead of escaping to Southeast Asia as refugees as planned, thirty were arrested at the border along with dozens of others throughout the province. Warrants were issued for those who were not immediately caught, and a detailed most wanted list was made public. At least eight remained at large and as time passed, hope for the release of their compatriots or relatives and their own escape to a foreign refuge grew smaller. With warrants out for their arrest and a heavy police presence in Xinjiang, returning home was impossible. Without local ID cards, settling down in Yunnan would prove just as difficult. Out of viable options, the group of eight decided to make a brutal last stand, taking out vengeance on the province where their plans failed. Gathering what little resources they could find in Kunming, the group planned to strike where they would be able to cause the most damage. And so on March 1, 2014, five people walked into the Kunming Train Station with knives and terror ensued. Continue reading

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On Xinjiang’s Freedom Struggle and Oppression

Uyghur woman facing a police cordon during protests in Xinjiang in 2009. Photo: REUTERS

Uyghur woman facing a police cordon during protests in Xinjiang in 2009. Photo: REUTERS

I never intended to write a background article on the Xinjiang situation, simply because I feel I’m not nearly an expert on the field. But inevitably, when you’re researching a subject and trying to form an idea, article after article pops up, and important people all over the world voice opinion after opinion. And that’s how it’s suddenly noon and you’re still sitting in your underwear on the couch with your head stuck deep into the internet.

Even though I have become a lot wiser about the Xinjiang issue, I am not in a place to make socio-political analysis. However, this terror attack, this fight for freedom, and this cultural and economic oppression are not confined to Kunming, Xinjiang or China. They are not isolated events. And neither are reactions from the opposite side, which slowly but surely tighten the noose of public opinion around the neck of a culture, a religion and a people until it has been stripped of its humanity and hunting season is declared open to shoot down – verbally or literally – anyone connected with it. It’s easy to draw a few parallels to the intolerant climate in Europe in the 1930′s and the world doesn’t need another such occurrence. With this opinion piece I want to contribute, however little, to halt this mass demonisation.

People have been rightfully pointing out that many western media used quotes (such as CNN, now removed) around terrorism, as if terrorism is some sort of privilege of the West to suffer. Of course, the definition of terrorism is problematic, even the UN hasn’t properly outlined it yet. I would define terrorism as an act of violence with a political motive which, rather than targeting the political bodies it is in conflict with, targets a group of unrelated people in the hope that their fear will cause them to put political pressure on the targeted government. By this definition, the Kunming knife incident is very likely to be a terror attack (very likely, because the attack hasn’t been claimed by anyone, and because the authorities have not made the perpetrators’ identities public yet).

The Washington Post has published an article in which it looks for motives and where it blames Chinese oppression. As terrorism and freedom struggles are a global issue, this comes across as hypocritical. The author probably doesn’t mean it as such, but if you read between the lines, he’s saying that while terrorism in the West is to blame on freedom-hating thugs, terrorism in China is the result of government oppression. In my opinion, naturally only the latter is true and the West ought to learn a lesson from this. It should also apply its China logic to how it judges insurgent groups, and not only in the Muslim world.

That brings me to the next issue: can it simply be blamed on government oppression?

There has been a lot of outrage about the statement of Dilxat Rexit, the head of the World Uyghur Congresswhich strives for Uyghur self-determination. In an e-mailed statement to the New York Times, he said: ”We oppose any form of violence, and we also urge the Chinese government to ease systematic repression. If this incident was really the work of Uyghurs, then I can only say that it may be an extreme act by people who feel they cannot take it anymore.” Some (e.g. Kaiser Kuo on his Facebook page) argue this is basically a defence of the barbaric acts of last Saturday.

Yet what do you expect the head of the World Uyghur Congress to say? He’s the head of an organisation that promotes the cultural and political freedom of Uyghur people all around the world. Do you expect him not to give his take on the motives? And do you not think that he will find those motives rooted in the cultural and violent oppression by the Han in Xinjiang? Do you expect him to merely condemn the attacks without following up with a ‘but’ clause? Of course not, that’s why he’s the leader of the WUC. What he is saying is: “I could see that coming.”

I am for once agreeing with Mao Zedong, in that there is no hatred without a reason. I strongly recommend taking ten minutes to read Chinachange.org’s translation of an opinion piece written by Wang Lixiong (王力雄), Beijing-based political dissident and writer of “My West China, Your East Turkestan” (我的西域,你的东土). In it, the author argues that the problem is political at its core and therefore cannot be solved with economic solutions such as Beijing’s knee-jerk response of ‘developing’ China’s far west.

Mr. Wang writes that Uyghur people in Xinjiang are at a disadvantage on many levels. They often do not speak Mandarin well enough, have their own cultural and religious values and are therefore completely left out of the political process. At the same time, the government is siphoning away Xinjiang’s riches to the east. Social and economic segregation results in Uyghurs only getting the crumbles of a cake that the Han (who are now more or less equal in numbers in Xinjiang) have divided among themselves. The perpetual circle of violence and repression will lead to the ultimate exclusion of Uyghurs from society and, ultimately, to ‘Palestinisation‘ (a word the writer uses to mean the full mobilisation of a people against another). These pariahs will turn to their neighbours Afghanistan or Pakistan for their religious identity. This includes the risk that Uyghur people, who normally adhere a milder strain of Sunni Islam, will be converted to fundamentalists. The comparison to another Palestine or even Chechnya is indeed not far off.

It is easy for us to say something along the lines of “the Muslims are at it again.” It’s an old mantra repeated by ever more people all over the world. Yet I doubt that it’s right to blame religion. In fact, I’d even make the case that Islam doesn’t even play a real role in the knife attacks. It just happens to be the religious background of a people that want their land back, or at least want to be treated as equals in what once was their land. Possibly only the modus operandi changes: the IRA or the ETA would have planted a bomb.

Therefore, blaming religion is wrong and dangerous, because it would condemn a group far larger than the one engaging in violent activity. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the rise of radical Islam all over the globe is playing and will be playing an ever more important role in the lives of Xinjiang Uyghurs.

In light of the radicalisation of the entire Muslim world, if you don’t come to the conclusion that outsiders have created an environment in which they feel oppressed and which therefore allows terrorism to flourish, then your conclusion can only be that there is no chance of ever abating their extremism. Then you must conclude that Muslims are an evil group that needs to be eradicated or at least fought until they give up. I think history has taught us that that is not the way the cookie crumbles.

Editor’s Note: Sander originally published this post on his blog www.worldofnonging.com on 3/4/14.

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Kaiser Kuo: On Radicalization and Chinese Policy

I get that some people trying to make sense of the attacks in Kunming want to take the opportunity to discuss how Chinese policy contributed to radicalization. And while I’ve noted elsewhere how it bothers me profoundly that many Anglophone commentators offer a merely perfunctory nod to the monstrousness of the knife attacks that claimed 29 innocent lives and sent 160 or more people to the hospital with stab and slash wounds before moving on to the “real” issue of Chinese repression of Uyghur rights, I do believe the desire on the part of some people to use the Kunming massacre to talk about underlying issues is well-intentioned and appropriate.

What troubles me, though, is that too often in that ensuing discussion, this attack as well as all the recent attacks—whether or not they cross our (still somewhat blurred) definitional line into terror—are seen simply as responses to Chinese repression. Is there repression and bad policy? Yes, absolutely. Has it contributed to radicalization? Sure.

But is it the only factor that has contributed to radicalization?

Of course not. The weird part is that while it should be stunningly obvious that the whole context, the whole relationship between Islam and the secular, industrialized world, the whole discourse on the way Islamic peoples are situated in the modern world—all this has dramatically changed, but this barely enters conversation. There are myriad alternative responses, loci of identity, causes, leaders, and movements on offer now that just weren’t there pre-September 11. The Internet barely existed in the oasis cities of the Tarim before 2001.

But people are for the most part writing and talking about the situation as though it’s happening in complete isolation, as though the rise of radical Islam in the rest of the world since the 1980s doesn’t figure in. It somehow doesn’t merit a paragraph or two alongside the context paragraphs that most of the Anglophone outlets see fit to include about repressive policies in restive Xinjiang. People can’t see beyond the simple narrative of Chinese repression.

Any serious effort to look at what’s happened and where things might go from here has to look at Chinese policy, and I’m sure that there’s plenty of blame to be laid there. But it should also factor in—and this is a far from comprehensive list—the rise of Wahhabism and other fundamentalist sects much further to the west; the Mujahedin in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal; Bin Laden and AQ; their bloody work; the whole idiotic enterprise of the GWoT; networks like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; the Afghan training camps (where let’s not forget there were many Uyghurs); the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the Arab Spring in more recent years. It has to look critically at the WUC and the pared-down, simplistic narrative it’s managed to sell, and on and on.

It’s depressing that instead people are quibbling over how well organized ETIM is, with some even denying that any organizations like it exist at all. Or they quibble over whether scare-quotes should be used with the word terrorism. (Yes, I’ve been quibbling over that, but I think it’s important: Like many people, I find that the word’s been badly abused, mostly at the hands of the Bush 43 Administration, and is deeply problematic, but dropping our use of it now, or deploying it only with the scare-quotes, is too loaded a statement and sends very wrong messages).

But to my main point: Yes, let’s talk about the underlying problems. But let’s not for a second believe that if only the Chinese would be nicer all the nasty, violent radicalism would just disappear.

This post was originally published on Kaiser Kuo’s Facebook page on 3/3/14. It received so much attention that we reached out to Kaiser for a repost on ExSE.  This is posted with the permission of the author. Comments and discussion welcome.  

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Deadly Kunming Knife Attack Leaves 33 Dead, 130+ Wounded

luggage

Kunming is a city known for its sleepy nature and a perfect climate that promotes a casual urban way of life.  In many ways it offers an alternative to the busy competitive nature of China’s first and second tier cities.  As the capital of Yunnan province, the city also prides itself as a peaceful melting pot of ethnic unity in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the world.

The Spring City’s reputation was irrevocably changed on the evening of Saturday March 1 as a group of five to ten knife-wielding attackers entered the Kunming Railway Station and engaged in a stabbing rampage that killed 28 passengers and wounded more than 100. The Chinese government is labeling the assailants as a Uyghur separatist terrorist group although very little is known of the actual identities of the assailants and their motives.

This horrifying incident is the bloodiest in recent memory to occur outside of Xinjiang, a territory that has seen an increase in restive ethnic activity over the past five years. The domestic Chinese media and international media are providing plenty of coverage of the incident, but many questions remain unanswered and facts surrounding the incident are sketchy at best.

Most importantly, who are the assailants?  Why was Kunming and its train station chosen as a site for the attack? And how could security at the train station be so lax to permit this unprecedented violence?

Official reports confirmed late Saturday evening that security forces killed four of five assailants and apprehended a fifth female attacker.  In the firefight one or more of Kunming’s SWAT force was injured with undisclosed levels of injuries.  Phoenix TV reported three of the assailants fled northward on Beijing Road (Kunming’s central north to south thoroughfare) out of the train station and continued to stab innocent bystanders until they met a police blockade several hundred meters from the station. Two were shot on sight and one apprehended, allegedly a woman five months pregnant.  Photos show the assailants were wearing the same black head to toe uniforms and were said to have their heads covered. Early Sunday morning March 2, photographs of a short sleeve black t-shirt with a crescent moon and Arabic script began to circulate Chinese social media channels; the t-shirt was the alleged uniform of the attackers – however, photos of the apprehended and assailants killed on site suggest they were wearing long sleeve shirts.

photo

On Sunday morning March 2, the official Chinese media labeled the incident as a terrorist attack laying the blame on Uyghur separatists groups.  At the point of this publication no names, photos, or information on the assailants have been released to the public. Identifying the assailants as Uyghur did confirm the initial messages that hit popular Chinese social media channels around 10pm on Saturday evening.  Concerned Chinese citizens are calling for the release of information on the assailants by the public security forces, but due process in China does not require the release of such information.  It is possible that we will never know the true identity and motivations of the attackers.

At noon on March 2, a list of 11 Uyghur men with names and headshots began to circulate Chinese social media sites.  The men are labeled as suspects fleeing the scene of the crime and no information has been released about their specific connection to the incident.  Were these men identified by close circuit cameras in the train station? Were their names divulged by the apprehended fifth attacker? Were they simply men who failed to show up to work on Sunday and reported by their Han Chinese employers as missing or by local observers as suspicious figures? Again Chinese criminal and legal processes help to shed little light on the identity of these men who apparently are still at large.

Kunmingers are in a state of fear and disbelief as news of the incident unfolds. Of the few people interviewed by ExSE most state that it is important to stay indoors since suspects were still on the run. The municipal public security bureau has asked all housing complexes, public venues, and university campuses to increase security surveillance methods. Property management companies of housing complexes are encouraging residents to blanket report sightings of any Uyghurs to local police stations.

Photos from the Kunming No. 1 Hospital located in the center of the city show the wounded recovering in gurneys, occupying hallways in the already crowded and resource strapped facility. A Sina Weibo user reported in an unverified report that a migrant family cannot afford the 50000 RMB required for treatment of their critically injured child.

Chinese train stations are often crowded and packed with passengers into the late evening as passengers board overnight trains to destinations throughout the country. Kunming’s station last night was no exception. The mix of people in the train station was likely comprised of various walks of life from migrant workers, to middle-class tourists, to foreign backpackers heading to the popular tourism destinations of Lijiang and Dali as well as points north in inland China.  One photo showed a bag of golf clubs against a wall towering above a pool of blood.  Gruesome photos of the scene also show luggage left strewn throughout the scene of the violence, a rampage that occurred in many of the stations waiting halls in addition to the main ticketing room.

Anyone who travels on China’s rails and bus system knows the security at train and bus stations is extremely lax. Poorly trained guards – really hired help in shabby blue uniforms – man posts at metal detectors and luggage scanners placed in station entryways more for show than to serve a security purpose. At peak times train and bus stations are much more crowded than airports in China and metal detectors are constantly sounding as passengers walk through without any recourse or further pat downs. With the exception of Xinjiang and Tibet were security has been increasingly tightened over the past five years, the quality of procedures to safeguard the security of public places wanes as one gets farther  away from Beijing.

This lax security culture is likely to, and hopefully will change as a result of the incident in which locals are dubbing as Kunming’s 9/11. China’s President Xi Jinping dispatched top domestic security official Meng Jianzhu to Kunming to oversee the investigation that comes days before the opening of critical government meetings in Beijing. This incident will surely cast a cloud over the meetings which are a critical platform for Xi to further deepen his reform policies for China – or the incident will force the agenda to be more focused on security concerns, an already expressed concern for the new leadership. Meng Jianzhu said in a public statement today, “This gang of terrorists were cruel without any humanity. They completely abandoned their conscience. We must strike hard against them according to the law.”

Perhaps the known factor of a lax security environment and a municipal government famous for slow responses and public relations nightmares made Kunming an easy target for the assailants – if they were as the official Chinese media claims from western Xinjiang. We are all still grappling to understand why Kunming was chosen as a target for an attack of such scale. The last time an incident of this nature – although admittedly we are still trying to figure out the exact nature of the incident – happened was a series of two bombings in 2008 when a local man, a former convict disgruntled and unable to find a place and job in China’s competitive society bombed a bus killing two and then unintentionally killed himself in a second bombing inside the popular Salvador’s Café in the city’s university district.  The two incidents were spread out over a five month period. Prior to the bomber’s death in the second December 2008 bombing, authorities blamed the first bombings on Uyghur separatists until they could forensically link the two incidents. The bomber was Hui Muslim but not Uyghur and religion ties or ethnic suppression were not revealed as motivations for the incident.

Today on the streets of Kunming, many were reluctant to discuss the incident.  Known acquaintances opened conversations with “the thing on TV” or “what was in the news,” a reaction that displays the shock and disbelief that this could happen in their city or a willingness to distance themselves from the incident in self-protective behavior. A local fruit vendor was angry beyond words and could only mutter, to my disbelief, that all Uyghurs should be corralled and shot. Another local suggested that as a foreigner I should pack my bags and go back to the West where “you don’t have to worry about terrorism.”  Similar responses and sentiments pervade the Chinese population

As the city begins to piece itself back together with the start of the work week tomorrow, ExSE will continue its discussion of this horrible incident, continuing to comment on official media response, the discussion of Uyghur separatism and its link to the incident. In addition to the broader topics above which the mainstream media has already defined as its main narrative surrounding the incident, ExSE, a Kunming based website is interested in exploring issues on the ground here in the city as they unfold and from a long term, more connected perspective.

With so little information released on the true identities of the assailants as well as the identity of those slain in the attack, how does an urban society process and respond to such a violent incident? We are also curious and concerned to the way an urban society heals from the shock and grief that now holds sway over Kunming and to what effect security will be raised in the city in both the short and long term. Importantly how will the ethnically diverse but general peaceful and non-restive ethnic groups of Yunnan respond to an attack labeled with ethnic motivations by an outside separatist group?  And will angry Chinese nationals seek retaliation against Uyghurs and Muslims in all patterns of ethnic and nationalist tension that are becoming more and more predictable in China?

Please feel free to leave comments to this post or if you have contributions, contact us at eastbystheastmail@gmail.com.

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