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Three executed for Kunming railway station attack


Three men from Xinjiang, all of them convicted of helping to carry out the brutal 2014 Kunming train station attack, were put to death earlier this week. A brief notice posted on a micro-blog managed by the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court announced the executions on Tuesday

Iskandar Ehet, Hasayn Muhammad and Turgun Tohtunyaz were convicted of premeditated murder and leading a terrorist group in September 2014. Their guilty verdicts and sentences were recently upheld by China’s highest judiciary, the Supreme People’s Court, clearing the way for the executions.

The three men did not physically participate in the shocking March 1, 2014 attack in Yunnan’s provincial capital. Instead, according to the now-accepted narrative, they were apprehended for illegally trying to cross the border out of China two days before the train station rampage. In a statement made shortly after the attack, then Yunnan Party Secretary, Qin Guangrong,characterized the captured men as Muslim terrorists, adding one had confessed to his crimes and admitted the group wanted “to join jihad”.

Parts of this narrative directly contradict previous press accounts claiming the suspects were captured following a 36-hour manhunt in Kunming undertaken by authorities after the train station bloodshed. It remains unclear when or where the men were actually caught, as no details of their arrests have ever been made public.

Alternately dubbed the ‘3.01 Event’ and ‘China’s 9/11’, the March 2014 attack left 31 people dead and 141 injured. Four of the assailants were shot and killed at the scene — in some accounts by a single police sniper in under 15 seconds. The lone female attacker, Patigul Tohti, was apprehended alive at the train station and later sentenced to life in prison at the same trial where Ehet, Muhammad and Tohtunyaz were condemned to die.

Making an already painful and opaque situation even more confusing, investigators who claimed the case was closed in mid-2014, announced last month that four new suspects had been arrested in Indonesia. Another five people thought to have helped orchestrate the Kunming plot reportedly escaped a police dragnet by Indonesian police.

Uncertainty of details aside, this week’s handling of the executions was far more subdued than the last time Kunming authorities dealt with a high-profile death sentence. The simple announcement was made on a micro-blogging service and did not mention the means of death or where the executions were carried out.

In stark contrast, Kunming judicial officials made waves both inside and outside China in 2013 for their handling of the execution of Burmese drug kingpin and convicted murderer Naw Kham. Authorities televised his final hours, producing an ill-conceived reality television show — complete with running commentary — that aired nationally. It ran for nearly two hours, ending with a live interview with Naw seconds before he was taken away and killed.

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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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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 Economics of the Kunming Massacre

In the wake of the Kunming massacre, the mood in Beijing is more choleric than somber. President Xi Jinping immediately announced a nationwide crackdown on terrorism and military troops were rapidly posted at train and bus stations throughout the country. Armored vehicles now patrol Kunming, Xinjiang natives have been told to register themselves at local police stations in Qinghai province and in Guangxi province authorities have asked citizens to report if they see anyone from Xinjiang — anyone at all.

President Xi also issued a gag order on local reporting, with coverage in Kunming Daily and Yunnan Daily provided by Xinhua reporters in Beijing. Meanwhile China Daily featured a front page photograph of President Xi shaking hands with an ethnic Uighur member of the PCC (China’s Senate). But strengthening national unity goes beyond public cries for concord and front page handshakes. It also involves eliminating the perceived cause of the conflict, and the national narrative is that this cause has more to do with nomadism or Islamist ideology than the fact that employment opportunities for Uighur people, even in their homeland province, are dismally inadequate. In 2009 Ilham Tohti, economics professor at Beijing’s Central Nationalities University and an ethnic Uighur, spoke with Radio Free Asia and suggested jobs might be the key to settling unrest.

But rather than address economic pressures, the government continues to focus on Islam as the catalyst. In 2013 police in Xinjiang began harassing women in head scarves and men with beards. Radio Free Asia reported how one man, with no prior record of violence, stabbed a police officer when he was forced to shave. Ehmetjan Niyaz, an intelligence agent with the local security bureau, commented that they had been advised to investigate men with beards. In Xinjiang, that essentially means all Uighur men.

In other words, the more Beijing singles out Muslims as a means of burking separatism, the more separatist Xinjiang Muslims become. Gardner Bovingdon, Professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University and author of The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land, writes “the closure of mosques, supervision and dismissal of clerics, and the prevention of religious practice by the young — has made Islam in Xinjiang more rather than less political”.

Another government strategy has been to manipulate the demographics of the region. Of the 60% of Xinjiang’s population that is not Uighur, Kazakhs constitute 7% with Hui being another 4.5%. The remaining dozen or so minority groups collectively make up 8.5% while the final 40% is entirely ethnic Han. According to Dr Stanley Toops of Miami University, from 1953 to 1964 the presence of ethnic Han rose from 7% to 33%. Since the 1970s, this number has remained stable at around 40%, making it one of the fastest demographic shifts in Chinese history.

In 2007 Gaël Raballand and Agnès Andrésy published an article entitled “Why Should Trade between Central Asia and China Continue to Expand?” In it, the authors describe how the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps, also known as the bingtuan, was created in 1954 to encourage the movement of Han Chinese into the region by creating infrastructure there. In addition to creating an ethnic Han workforce to outnumber local Uighurs, the bingtuan also helps ensure locals remain calm with a security force of more than 120,000 heavily-armed troops. As The Economist points out, propaganda is par for the course:

“A museum in Shihezi, a city in northern Xinjiang controlled by the corps, displays a photograph of members of the bingtuan militia armed with rifles, crouching behind a wall during a 1990 uprising by Uighurs near the city of Kashgar. The militia, says the caption, played an important role in crushing the unrest. Amnesty International, a human-rights group, says 50 Uighurs were killed in the incident, including some who were shot while running away.”

Morris Rossabi, who teaches History at Columbia University, points to the Tang Dynasty as the origin of the bingtuan. Famously cosmopolitan, the Tang Dynasty celebrated the Turkic culture of present-day Xinjiang, staffing its frontier armies with Turkic soldiers and even allowing some, like the great Ashina Se’er, to rise to the rank of Tang general. This helped frontier lands become self-reliant and even afforded some measure of political autonomy. The bingtuan follows this tradition by providing Xinjiang the means for economic self-reliance, yet deviates sharply by staffing its workforce with ethnic Han rather than local Uighurs.

With Xinjiang currently contributing roughly 4% of the nation’s GDP (primarily through oil reserves) as well as Beijing’s Western Development policy, which hopes to see China’s western provinces contribute greatly to the nation’s economy, Uighurs will remain a minority in Xinjiang for the foreseeable future. Dr Ilham Tohti has stated he is not opposed to state-orchestrated migration policies, but that these policies need to be carefully reviewed, pointing that if there are enough jobs to warrant the migration of millions of ethnic Han into the region, then why aren’t there enough jobs for the people already living there?

In 2006 Dr Tohti launched a website promoting understanding between ethnic Han and Uighurs, but in 2009 it was shut down and Dr Tohti was arrested. He was released shortly before President Obama’s visit to Beijing but in January 2014 the BBC reported he had again disappeared, that his family had no knowledge of his whereabouts and that the government was charging him with separatism — a crime punishable by death.

For now, events like the Kunming massacre serve to further Beijing’s program of economic development in Xinjiang by providing carte blanche to those who view ethnic identity as a major roadblock to China’s economic future and by giving Xinjiang politicians an easy scapegoat when they fail to provide economic paths of opportunity.

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Roundup of 3.01 Train Station Attack News Coverage

In addition to our usual news digest, this week ExSE has compiled a list of articles covering the 3/1 terrorist attack at the Kunming train station. The links are ordered chronologically by publication date, and include both Western media sources and English-language Chinese state media links.

March 9

The Kunming Train Station Attack: A Hypothesis | East by Southeast — In answering the question “Why was Kunming chosen as the site of last Saturday’s attack?” consider the following […] – See more at: http://www.eastbysoutheast.com/kunming-train-station-attack-hypothesis/#comments

March 8

Xinjiang Party Secretary Talks Terrorism After Kunming Attack |Diplomat — On Thursday, Xinjiang’s Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian led the Xinjiang delegation’s meeting at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. In the wake of the deadly March 1 attack in Kunming, Zhang faced a barrage of questions about the rise of terrorism within China and the government’s response.

The two-faced stance of US on terrorists | China Daily — Many Chinese are indignant at the slow and reluctant response from the United States in condemning last Saturday’s terrorist attack at the railway station in Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan province. The US’ reluctance to condemn the terrorists is obvious since neither President Barack Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken out and deplored the attack.

A week later, prayers, paper cranes, heightened security in Kunming | China Daily — According to Zhang Guibai, a member of the armed police in Yunnan, about 6,600 officers have been working on the investigation of the case and maintaining social stability. Police are deployed in and around public places, including parks, schools and train stations. Armed police units also have been strengthened near Yunnan’s borders with neighboring countries.

UN human rights body calls for “thorough investigation” over terrorist attack in China | Global Times — The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on Friday for “thorough investigation” over the appalling terrorist attack in Kunming, southwest China, which claimed at least 29 lives and left over a hundred others wounded.

March 7

Chinese Governor Signals Crackdown on Separatists | NYT — The remarks by the governor of Xinjiang signaled that the Communist Party would tighten security throughout the region in reaction to a knife attack that killed 29 civilians.

Chinese police arrest 45 for ‘spreading rumours’ online after knife attack | Guardian — Chinese police have arrested 45 people for “spreading rumours” online in the wake of Saturday’s horrific knife attack at a Chinese train station.

China warns influential commentators to stick to party line on Kunming attack | Daily Telegraph — Chinese police have named and threatened some of the country’s most influential journalists and commentators for questioning the party line on a terror attack in Kunming.

Terror attack: Dark day | Economist — A brutal knife attack shocks China and raises questions about its policy towards ethnic minorities

Terrorist Attacks ‘part of trend’ | Global Times — About 90 percent of violent terrorists use means such as VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to circumvent the Great Firewall and the increasing amount of terrorist attacks is part of the international trend, the top leader of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region said on Thursday.

March 6

China imposes censorship on reporting of knife attack | Guardian — After the knife attack on Chinese people in Kunming last Saturday, in which 29 people were hacked to death, the state council information office issued the following directive: “Media that report on the knife attack incident that occurred March 1 at the Kunming railway station must strictly adhere to Xinhua News Agency wire copy or information provided by local authorities.”

Implications of the Kunming Terrorist Attack | Diplomat — The Diplomat speaks with Dr. Sean Roberts about the implications of the Kunming knife attack.

Details slowly emerge in Kunming knifing investigation | GoKunming — As people across China attempt to come to terms with the deadly knife attack on civilians at Kunming’s train station, details of the tragedy are beginning to come to light. Although no clear motive has been announced, high-ranking officials have given statements detailing some actions of the group responsible for the assault. More importantly, many of those injured at the station are reported to be convalescing in local hospitals.

Don’t label terrorism as ‘ethnic’: adviser | China Daily — Cases like the deadly attack in Kunming should be handled in a way that avoids linking a terrorist assault with an “ethnic issue”. Zhu Weiqun, head of the committee on ethnic and religious affairs under China’s top political advisory body, made the remark on Wednesday in an interview with China Daily.

March 5

Chinese Officials Seek to Shift Attention From Rampage | NYT — Days after knife-wielding assailants killed 29 people and injured 143 at the train station in Kunming, Chinese authorities appeared eager to change the subject.

Attack prompts strengthened anti-terrorism legislation | China Daily — Legislators and political advisors have proposed improving legislation to counter terrorism following the deadly terrorist attack that killed 29 civilians and injured 143 others.

Opposing Narratives in Piecing Together Kunming Attackers’ Motives | NYT — Were the assailants who slashed to death 29 people and wounded 143 others at a train station in southwestern China last Saturday aspiring jihadists or would-be refugees seeking to flee the country?

China knife massacre culprits wanted to wage jihad abroad, official says | Guardian — The group behind Saturday’s gruesome knife attack at a Chinese train station turned to violence after failing to leave the country “to participate in jihad”, a senior Communist party official was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

Kunming: A New Phase of Terrorism in China | Diplomat — The deadly weekend attack, which killed 29 civilians, could mark a new era for security in China.

Kunming knife gang ‘tried to leave China’ before attack | Daily Telegraph — Attackers who launched a brutal mass knifing at a Chinese train station acted in desperation after a failed attempt to leave the country and become jihadists overseas, a Chinese official was Wednesday quoted as saying.

Officer tells of fight with terrorists | China Daily –Kunming SWAT team officer Zhang Jun (not his real name) went on his first real crisis response mission on Saturday at Kunming Railway Station and came face to face with a gang of knife-wielding terrorists slashing and stabbing people at random. He was the only member of the four-man team armed with an automatic rifle.

Uygur community tries to regain trust after incident | China Daily — Three days after a deadly terrorist attack by eight people from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, the biggest Uygur community in Kunming, Yunnan province, is trying to recover from the shock. In Dashuying, which has the biggest community of Uygurs in Kunming, people from different ethnic groups are trying to build trust.

Journalists see bias in Western coverage | China Daily — On Monday, the All-China Journalists Association condemned major Western media outlets, including CNN and AP, for “turning a blind eye” to the terrorist attack at a Kunming railway station, where 29 people were killed and 143 injured.

Xi calls for strong ethnic unity to guide nation after rampage | China Daily — Qin Guangrong, Party secretary of Yunnan province and a deputy to the National People’s Congress, said on Tuesday that police tracked the three suspects who fled Kunming to the Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture in southern Yunnan and arrested them in Shadian, a largely Muslim township in the prefecture, 40 hours after the attack. Qin was the first Yunnan deputy to the NPC to make an official statement on the massacre.

March 4

Report: suspects apprehended in Kunming mass stabbing case | GoKunming — Chinese state-run media is reporting all suspects believed to have taken part in a brutal attack on civilians at the Kunming railway station have been arrested or killed. Initial reports put the number of perpetrators at ten or more, but that number has been scaled back to eight.

Kunming terrorist attack suspects captured | Xinhua — Chinese police said Monday three suspects involved in the terrorist attack in the southwestern city of Kunming had been captured. The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement that the terrorist gang led by Abdurehim Kurban was responsible for the attack.

After Prodding, U.S. State Department Labels Kunming Attack ‘Terrorism’ | NYT — Questioned by reporters, a State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, called the deadly attack in Kunming a terrorist attack, after the Chinese state news media accused overseas news agencies of failing to do so.

Train Station Rampage Further Strains Ethnic Relations in China | NYT — Relations have never been easy between the Han majority and Uighurs, but after an attack on Saturday, many Chinese are saying the mood is worsening.

Kunming massacre: Has the global jihad reached China? | Daily Telegraph — No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for last Saturday’s attack. But some fear it may be the start of a new cycle of violence as China becomes a target for radicals trained or influenced by Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The state media called the attack “China’s 9-11”: the moment when Islamic terrorists began to target Chinese civilians.

Is the Kunming Knife Attack China’s 9-11? | The Diplomat — The deadly attack in Kunming may forever change the way China thinks about and deals with terrorism.

Terror in Kunming | The Economist — Chinese police announced the capture on Monday of three suspected participants in a gruesome attack by a knife-wielding gang that killed 29 people in the main train station of Kunming, a major city in China’s south-west.

Security tightened at railway stations, airports in major cities | China Daily — Police in Kunming, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other provincial capitals, including Xi’an, Shaanxi province, and Changsha, Hunan province, have stepped up police forces at transport hubs and public areas such as shopping malls and schools, authorities said.

Western Media Coverage of Kunming’s Terror Attack Shows Sheer Mendacity and Heartlessness | People’s Daily Online — While China grieved and expressed its outrage following the savage stabbing of innocent civilians by Xinjiang separatists at the crowded railway station in southwest China’s Kunming Saturday night, some Western media organizations, including CNN, Associated Press, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, were already presenting their audiences and their readership with a distorted view of events.

US: Train depot attack ‘terrorism’ | China Daily — On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US acknowledged that China has characterized the incident as a terrorist act.

Impact of terror attack on Yunnan tourism limited | China Daily — The terrorist attack in southwest China’s Kunming on Saturday has had and will have a limited impact on tourism in Yunnan province, the provincial tourism authority said on Tuesday.

Media innuendos unjustified | China Daily — Most media organizations worldwide covered the incident in a professional manner in line with the principle of humanity, however, a handful of Western news organizations have rubbed salt into the wounds, says a Xinhua commentary.

Kunming Train Station Attacks: The Media’s Response | East by Southeast — 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.

Kaiser Kuo: On Radicalization and Chinese Policy | via East by Southeast –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.

March 3

Video Said to Be of Kunming Attack Aftermath Appears Online | NYT — Video has emerged on a Chinese video-sharing service that apparently shows scenes from the knife attack in the Kunming train station on Saturday that left at least 29 people dead.

U.N. Security Council Condemns ‘Terrorist Attack’ in Kunming | NYT — As the United Nations Security Council condemned the attack in China’s Kunming train station that left at least 29 dead, the authorities moved to delete social media posts that called on leaders to allow open discussion of the situation in Xinjiang, where tensions are running high.

China Train Station Attackers May Have Acted ‘in Desperation’ | Radio Free Asia — A group of knife-wielding attackers who went on a weekend slashing spree at a train station in China’s southern Yunnan province may have been disgruntled ethnic minority Uyghur asylum seekers who felt “trapped” between violence in their Xinjiang homeland and the inability to flee across the border into Laos, sources say.

Report People From Xinjiang, Police Say After Deadly Attack | NYT — A police station in the southern region of Guangxi has called on citizens to report any people from Xinjiang in their midst, after attackers believed to be from the far western region killed at least 29 people on Saturday.

Kunming in the aftermath of the train station attack | GoKunming — n the wake of the attack on the Kunming Train Station, in which official sources say at least 29 people lost their lives and 143 were injured, I went to sniff around the city for stories and reactions. People are stoic, supportive of their fellow citizens and have seemed to steer clear of any racial or religious violence.

Kunming restores order after deadly terror attack | China Daily — At the train station where the attacked happened, train arrivals resumed on Sunday after three trains with 3,000 passengers were affected on Saturday night, said station officials. Meanwhile, 60,000 passengers are expected to leave the station on Sunday, higher than the 59,000 on Saturday.

China Focus: Legislators, advisors urge US to abandon terrorism double standard | People’s Daily Online — China’s legislators and political advisors have urged Washington to condemn Saturday’s deadly attack in southwest China as terrorist activity after the U.S. downplayed its severity. “The U.S. definition of terrorist activities hinges on its own political interests,” Yin Zhuo, director of the Expert Consultation Committee of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, told Xinhua on Monday.

Uygur general: PLA backs Xinjiang’s counter-terrorism efforts | People’s Daily Online — The counter-terrorism efforts in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have the strong backing from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said a senior military commander here Monday. “Counter-terrorism arrangements are in place to prevent serious incidents in Xinjiang,” said Saimati Muhammat, major general and deputy commander of the Xinjiang Military Area Command, in an interview with Xinhua.

March 2

China Blames Xinjiang Separatists for Stabbing Rampage at Train Station | NYT — Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, officials on Sunday described the killings as an act of terrorism planned and perpetrated by separatists from Xinjiang, where members of the Uighur minority are increasingly at odds with the government.

Attackers With Knives Kill 29 at Chinese Rail Station | NYT — A group of assailants, dressed in black and wielding knives, stormed into a train station in Kunming in southwestern China, slashing employees and commuters.

Horrific Knife Attack in China Leaves 33 Dead | Diplomat — Authorities vow justice as a group of men it says are Xinjiang separatists attack a crowd in Kunming.

Attack leaves dozens dead at Kunming Train Station | GoKunming — A coordinated assault by at least ten people at the Kunming Train Station has left more than 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. Police reportedly killed four of the attackers and arrested another, while five others remain at large.

Foreigners cautious in Kunming | China Daily — Kunming has for many years been a favored destination for foreign travelers, and it has a bubbling expat community. Foreigners in Kunming were shocked by the attack, especially those who witnessed it.

Migrants use hookahs to fight terrorists | China Daily — At around 9:30pm, Wang Dezhu, a migrant worker from Baoshan city in Yunnan, and some companions were preparing to take the train to Hebei province when the terrorists attacked. He said the migrant workers wielded bamboo hookahs – long, bamboo water pipes used in rural areas – as a weapon to protect themselves.

Social media users condemn attacks, pray for the dead | China Daily — On Sina Weibo, netizens are spreading the word of stopping the circulation of bloody photos on the Internet.

At least 29 dead, 130 injured in Kunming violence | China Daily — Twenty-nine civilians were confirmed dead and more than 130 others injured Saturday in a railway station attack in Southwest Chinese city of Kunming, authorities said. Police have shot dead at least four attackers whose identities are yet to be confirmed and are hunting for the rest. It was an organized, premeditated violent terrorist attack, according to the authorities.

Deadly Kunming Knife Attack Leaves 33 Dead, 130+ Wounded | East by Southeast — 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.

March 1

Police confirm injuries in Kunming railway station | China Daily — A group of unidentified armed men on Saturday stormed into a railway station in Kunming, capital of Southwest China’s Yunnan province, causing injuries, said the city police. Casualties have been under investigation, according to the police.

China’s ‘Blurred Lines’ on Security Threats | Diplomat — Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party is purposely conflating external and domestic security threats. /This was published the day of the attack at the train station, apparently before news had emerged, however it’s unfortunate timing by The Diplomat./



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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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Attack at Kunming train station leaves 27 dead and more than 100 injured

Late Saturday evening March 1, unknown attackers used knives to randomly kill passengers waiting at the Kunming train station. Xinhua News has reported 27 killed with 109 injured. A local hospital has seen more than 170 patients apparently injured in the incident.

The assailants are of unknown origin and motivation although Chinese social media sites are flying with rumors of ethnic affiliation. The state media has officially called this incident a terrorist attack.

While details are extremely sketchy photos from the incident are circulating as the story hits the international media. To keep up with the story as it breaks follow this live blog.


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