UPDATED July 18, 8:10pm EDT
A group of attackers besieged a police station in China’s Xinjiang Province on June 18, taking hostages, killing police officers, and setting fire to the building. Chinese state security forces responded with force, killing the men involved in the attack.
Reports by Chinese state media, which is tightly controlling the news, have been conflicted about the number of people killed. Initially a report on People’s Daily Online said that 14 attackers were gunned down by police, that two police and two hostages had been killed, and one police officer seriously injured, bringing the dead toll to 18. Six hostages were rescued, according to Xinhua, the state mouthpiece.
The figure of 14 attackers being killed was scrubbed from later reports in state media, who changed it to simply "a number." The later reports, with the censored figures, have been disseminated widely; Western media and some overseas Chinese media have widely reported simply that four were killed in the attack. Some Hong Kong media have given a death toll of up to 19, including the killed attackers.
The incident took place in Hotan, a city at the southwest corner of Xinjiang, a sparsely populated region in the far west known for ethnic tensions. Hotan was part of the historic Silk Road.
State-controlled media in China promptly reported the case, which is often done as part of an attempt to steer domestic and international reportage. Details have continued to emerge in Chinese media and on blogs, despite ongoing attempts by the authorities to censor keywords and close down some Internet discussion forums.
A resident in Hotan told The Epoch Times, “There were a few dozen Uyghurs that attacked the police. They took some hostages and set the fire. Not sure what was the reason for that. Many Uyghurs were killed by the police; I am not sure exactly how many of them [were killed].”
Some reports on the Chinese Internet indicate that 14 attackers were killed, while the official account states merely that "a number" were shot.
On the net, a blogger calling himself “Saliu” wrote on July 18: “At 12 noon, a colleague heard gunshots. Some people who came back from the street said that something serious must have happened. There were gunshots, police sirens, and ambulance sirens everywhere. We only knew that something serious had happened, but we had no idea what. Our office is located very near to place of the incident, only a 10-minute walk away.”
Saliu added that the atmosphere in the area over the last few days was odd. “We predicted that something would happen,” the blogger wrote.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has in the past blamed “separatist groups” for fomenting unrest, but released no details about the nature of Monday’s attack.
Most people living in Xinjiang are Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group that follows Sunni Islam. They are subject to encroaching pressures from Chinese communist authorities to circumscribe their culture, language, faith and freedom in their own land.
The CCP has encouraged the migration of ethnic Han Chinese to Xinjiang in what critics say is an attempt to marginalize and dilute the local culture. Tensions came to a raging boil in 2009 in a series of violent incidents of protest and response.
Uyghur activists and human rights groups have said that Beijing latches onto these outbursts to justify further suppression of Uyghur dissenters, and to implement tougher policies against the local population.