Tag Archives: Kunming knife attack

Kunming Train Station Attack Suspects Arrested in Indonesia

Four of the attackers were found guilty following their trial in September 2014.

Four men suspected of planning the 2014 Kunming Train Station attack were arrested this week in Indonesia. According to a report in the Jakarta Post, the Chinese and Indonesian governments agreed to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation in exchange for  information regarding nine Chinese nationals suspected of planning the Kunming terrorist attack. The agreement was signed by the head of the Indonesian  National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) Comr. Gen. Saut Usman and China’s Deputy Public Security Minister Meng Hongwei  in Beijing on Tuesday, February 10.

The terror suspects were reportedly arrested on Monday near Poso, Central Sulawesi Province. Speaking after the signing of the cooperation agreement,Saut, director of the BNPT,  said that only four of the nine suspects were arrested. Of the remaining five, three fled into the Sulawesi jungle, while two others escaped to Malaysia. After being picked up by police, the four suspects initially admitted to being Chinese nationals from Xinjiang, however they later changed their story, saying they were from Turkey. China and Indonesia signed an extradition treaty in 2009 so if it is true that suspects are indeed Chinese nationals, it is likely that they will be soon be sent to China to face charges.

In recent years, more and more Uighurs have fled China through Yunnan and into Southeast Asia. In  March 2014, a group of more than 200 Uighur refugees were found in a Thai human trafficking camp near the Malaysian border and earlier that month more than 60 Uighurs were caught escaping into Malaysia. In both cases, those in question claimed Turkish nationality. In previous cases, Uighurs found immigrating illegally into Cambodia and Malaysia were extradited back to China, where they were imprisoned.

In Chinese media, connections between the suspects and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have been made. According to one story on Sina.com, the four suspects were found with Islamic State paraphernalia, leading some to believe that they have a relation to the terrorist organization.  To date, more than three hundred Chinese nationals have joined the Islamic State, and recent reports say that three Chinese fighters were beheaded earlier this month as punishment for defection.

Though the exact story of their arrival in Sulawesi is murky at the moment,  Saut believes they are indeed from China. “They are believed to have fled to Poso by taking the land route through Myanmar, southern Thailand and Malaysia. From Malaysia, they entered Indonesia through Medan with Turkish passports and they posed as asylum seekers when they were in Medan,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency. According to Saut, the terrorism suspects went to Puncak in Bogor, Java to join a group of people from the Middle East who wanted to go to Poso.

Central Sulawesi has long been one of Indonesia’s most unstable regions. Starting in the late nineties, tensions between the province’s Muslim and Christian communities began to boil over before a spate of violence gripped the province. A series of bus attacks in Poso in 2002 and the beheadings of three teenage girls in 2005 brought a certain notoriety to the region  and to this day it’s known as a hotbed for extremist activity in the Indonesian archipelago.

The timing of the arrests and the signing of the counter terrorism cooperation agreement between the two countries is unlikely to be a coincidence. According to information received from the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing, the suspects’ names were on international terrorist watchlists and it is probable that Indonesian authorities picked them up independent of Chinese involvement. Following their arrests, it is likely that the Indonesian government used the news as a bargaining chip  to get the Chinese to sign the bilateral cooperation agreement. The arrests, being related to such a high-profile case, and the cooperation agreement should be seen as victories for Indonesia, whose relationship with China is growing closer, despite persistent maritime issues.

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Three sentenced to death for Kunming Train Station attack

The Intermediate Court of Kunming has found four defendants guilty of carrying out a deadly knife attack that claimed the lives of 31 civilians and injured 141 in March of this year. Three of the defendants, all men, received the death penalty, while the lone female suspect was sentenced to life in prison.

The one-day trail, held on September 12, lasted only a few hours. Video shows the three men, Iskandar Ehet, Turgun Tohtunyaz and Hasayn Muhammad seated in court with shaved heads, wearing matching blue prison uniforms. They were all found guilty of “premeditated murder and leading and organizing a terrorist group”. The fourth defendant, Patigul Tohti, will spend the rest of her life behind bars after being found guilty of “intentional homicide and joining a terrorist group”.

None of the men on trial participated directly in the train station attack, according to a BBCreport. Instead, they coordinated the assault from afar — making plans beforehand and then directing five of their associates. Court documents made public following the trial say the three men were all captured by police two days before the attacks occurred.

This narrative directly contradicts previous official accounts claiming the suspects were apprehended March 4 following a 36-hour manhunt in Kunming and beyond. It remains unclear when or where the men were actually captured, as no details of their arrests have ever been made public. Conversely, the story surrounding female assailant Tohti has remained consistent since March.

She was arrested following a bloody rampage wherein she and four others indiscriminately stabbed dozens of people who were queueing to buy tickets at the Kunming Train Station. Tohti was eventually subdued by police and arrested, while her four co-conspirators were all reportedly shot dead in a span of 15 seconds by a SWAT team sniper.

The trial in Kunming was uncharacteristically open to the public, and 300 people, including victims and their families, attended the proceedings. Security at the courthouse was increased noticeably, with armed guards posted both inside and outside the courtroom.

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 hundreds of people have been jailed for terrorism-related crimes by Xinjiang police as violence escalated over the summer.

This article was written by Patrick Scally and originally published on GoKunming

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Kunming Train Station Attacks: The Media’s Response



It’s Monday night, local time, and more than a day has passed since Kunmingers and the rest of the world awoke to news of Saturday night’s terrorist attack at the Kunming Railway Station. In that time, local residents, concerned citizens, the media and the world at large have begun the process of digesting what happened and what it all means. In this short time, reports have gone from panicked messages on mobile chat apps to full articles in the international press and an ongoing discussion on Twitter and Weibo. A few narratives have emerged, each with their distinct angle on the attack and some focused solely on the reaction to them.

Many of the first stories that were published were strict accounts what happened, such as this report from the BBC. The BBC story is representative in describing only the scene at the train station and eyewitness accounts of the attack. Similar stories were found on the websites of most news outlets.

The Chinese press, like the international press, only reported accounts of the scene at first, but stressed the official response, with most articles carrying quotes from President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Today, much of the coverage focused around security measures,  the efforts of medical teams in Kunming, and Chinese citizens’ response to the attacks.

Another narrative in the Chinese press was one of anger towards the foreign media for their treatment of the incident. One hotly discussed essay was this one from Xinhua News. Both the US Embassy and CNN drew Xinhua’s ire for downplaying the importance of the attacks. CNN put quotation marks around the word ‘terrorists’ in its first article on the incident while the US Embassy’s official statement failed to identify the attackers as terrorist. Xinhua was not the only one angry with the US Embassy, with thousands of Chinese criticizing the US online as well. In addition, this graphic from the People’s Daily online edition made for an intense discussion on both Twitter and Weibo.

A third strain of coverage of the incident centered around the bigger picture for China’s minority populations going forward. This article from Reuters looks at the possibility for increased tension between Uighurs and the majority Han population. A 2013 ChinaFile article by James Palmer, republished yesterday by Foreign Policy, was another article looking at ethnic tensions in Xinjiang that made the rounds on Twitter over the past 36 hours. The discussion around both articles has focused on whether or not the Kunming attacks are a harbinger for a new wave of crackdowns in Xinjiang and it’s a conversation that is sure to develop over the next days and weeks.

One line of discourse that has been missing from coverage is that of local Kunmingers. As often happens with events like these, the details and reactions of those most affected are discarded for larger implications and trends. Whether it be another short-lived skirmish over media bias towards China or the continuation of a long discussion on ethnic tensions in China, what locals think might be lost in the shuffle. Some interesting storylines that should be followed are: how Kunming as a city heals from the attacks; the language locals use to talk about the attack and what we can learn from that; how Kunming’s Uighur and Hui Muslim populations have been affected by the attacks; and how these attacks fit in the larger picture of ethnic relations in Yunnan. These are all critical questions and East by Southeast will do its best to find answers to them in the coming days. At the same time, we encourage our readers to reach out and tell us how they have been affected by the attacks what they see as important in the aftermath of such an event.

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Deadly Kunming Knife Attack Leaves 33 Dead, 130+ Wounded


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.


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.


Filed under China, Current Events, Kunming Train Station Attack, SLIDER, Uncategorized, Yunnan Province