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China attacks escalate as militants raise stakes

China attack/FILE

China attack/FILE

BEIJING, May 7 – A series of dramatic attacks in Chinese public spaces signals a worrying new attempt by militants from mainly Muslim Xinjiang to raise the stakes in response to Beijing’s heavy security measures, analysts say.

Violence, long concentrated against local security authorities and in street rioting, has since late last year been aimed at high-profile targets both inside and outside the resource-rich region.

A fiery vehicle crash in Tiananmen Square — symbolic heart of the Chinese state — last October was followed by a horrific knife attack in March at a railway station in the southern city of Kunming in which 29 died and 143 were wounded.

Last week assailants using knives and explosive devices attached to their bodies attacked a train station in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, resulting in three deaths — including two alleged attackers — and 79 wounded.

And on Tuesday a lone attacker was shot and caught after a slashing attack that injured six people at a station in the southern city of Guangzhou, police said, further fraying nerves.

Raffaello Pantucci, an expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London, called the apparent change in tactics a “worrying development” by militants who saw themselves as “part of an oppressed people who are not being recognised and supported”.

“Obviously, people don’t think that their message is getting through and that they’re being heard,” he told AFP. “If they’re not being heard, then you have to make a louder sound.

“There may be some negative repercussions but the negative repercussions in some way will only feed the narrative that you’re trying to advance.”

– No claim of responsibility –

Tensions in Xinjiang have simmered for decades, with the Muslim Uighurs in the far western region claiming discrimination in religious practices and jobs in the face of immigration by China’s Han majority. About 200 people died in inter-ethnic rioting in 2009.

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China has vowed repeated crackdowns on violence in Xinjiang, most recently during a visit last week by President Xi Jinping, his first since assuming office last year.

He promised “decisive actions” against terrorism and called the Kashgar area the “front line in anti-terrorist efforts”.

It borders Central Asia, from where some — including Beijing — say radicals of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), influenced by Al Qaeda, inspire and even orchestrate violence in China.

Rohan Gunaratna, professor of security studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, welcomed Xi’s comments as long overdue.

“China now faces a very significant threat from terrorism emanating from the ideology and also by the training infrastructure that the Turkestan Islamic Party has established in North Waziristan” in Pakistan’s tribal areas, he said.

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