BEIJING, August 5 – China declared Tuesday it could guarantee a safe Olympics three days ahead of the Games, as it tightened security in its remote northwest following a deadly attack blamed on Muslim terrorists.
Authorities said the two assailants who killed 16 policemen wanted to carry out a "holy war" and indicated they may have links with a UN-listed terrorist group China had previously said was planning to launch attacks on the Games.
Nevertheless, Beijing Olympic organisers sought to reassure the 10,000 athletes and 500,000 other expected foreign visitors coming to China for the Games that they should not be concerned about security.
"We can guarantee a safe and peaceful Olympic Games," organising committee spokesman Sun Weide told reporters.
China has already employed intense security throughout Beijing and across the country in the lead-up to the Games, with some veteran sporting officials saying they had not seen such a show of force since the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
In Xinjiang, the remote region that borders Central Asia where Monday’s attack took place, members of its Muslim Uighur ethnic group have complained for months of a massive security crackdown that has seen many people detained.
But China announced security was ramped up to another level on Tuesday across Xinjiang, and in particular the famed oasis city of Kashgar that was the scene of the assault that authorities blamed on two local Uighurs.
The official Xinhua news agency said police had increased road checks, while extra security forces had been sent to guard government office buildings, schools and hospitals.
China’s public security ministry said the two men who carried out the attacks were carrying propaganda material calling for a "holy war".
It said the explosives used by the attackers were similar to ones found in a raid last year on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a UN-listed terrorist group that wants Xinjiang to become an independent Muslim nation.
China’s state-run media went further, saying the ETIM was likely behind the attack.
Xinjiang has about 8.3 million Uighurs, and many are unhappy with what they say has been decades of repressive Communist Chinese rule.
In Beijing, some athletes appeared more concerned that the final preparations for the biggest event of their lives were being hampered by the city’s filthy air, which has persisted despite emergency clean-up measures.
"Very bad," Turkish junior world weightlifting champion Sibel Ozkan told AFP here Tuesday, covering her nose and mouth with a cupped hand, when asked about the pollution.
Indonesian weightlifting team official Syafraidi Cut Ali said his squad were under strict instructions to stay in the open air as little as possible.
"We stay in our bedrooms and the dining rooms, not in the open," Ali said. "It is a problem."
However the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission chairman, Arne Ljungqvist, said pollution levels were not as bad as first feared and blamed the media for exaggerating the issue.
"I’m confident the air quality will not prove to pose major problems to the athletes and to the visitors in Beijing," Ljungqvist said.
He said the media’s reporting had convinced such stars as Ethiopian greats Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele and British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe that competing here might damage their health.
However, IOC president Jacques Rogge had said during the one-year countdown to the Games last August that endurance events such as the marathon may have to be postponed if pollution levels were severe.
More than one million of Beijing’s 3.3 million cars were taken off the roads last month and many heavily polluting factories were temporarily closed down in an effort to improve the city’s air quality.
China has said it may implement further emergency measures later this week, such as taking more cars off the roads and shutting other factories.