Over 10 assailants, all clad in black, masterminded a brutal assault on commuters at a crowded train terminal in Kunming City, southern China, on Saturday. The frenzied men slashed at and drove their long knives into dozens of victims, killing 29 and injuring over 140, according to Chinese state media.
Official media channels quickly reported that the attackers were Uyghur muslims, from the far western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and that they were terrorists who sought to split China.
Netizens who were at the scene used their cell phones to capture images of dead bodies, prone on the ground; other images showed pools and spatters of blood after the attackers had done their grim work.
“Xinjiang separatist elements singlehandedly planned the incident,” announced People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. It was not clear how People’s Daily knew who planned the incident, within hours of it taking place.
Four assailants were shot dead at the scene by police, while one female participant was injured and arrested, state media said. Police are still hunting for the others, according to China Central Television (CCTV).
Xi Jinping, the head of the Communist Party, gave immediate instructions to “severely punish the violent terrorists” and “put full efforts” into investigating the Kunming incident.
The Communist Party’s Politics and Legal Affairs Committee, which controls the security apparatus, also defined the incident as an organized terrorist attack, orchestrated by Muslim Uyghurs from Xinjiang. It said that the attackers should be punished severely. No group has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the attack.
The Party moved quickly to ensure that the only initial reporting of the incident came from Xinhua, the official mouthpiece of the regime. Independent evidence on who was behind the attack has not been obtained or evaluated.
“Who’s the arrested person? Is she a Uyghur separatist? What’s behind the attackers?” asked Hua Po, a political commentator based in Beijing, speaking with New Tang Dynasty Television. “We can’t get information [from Chinese reports] other than what the authorities said… The issue would be simple if they are Uyghur separatists. If they are others, the issue could be even worse and more complicated.”
Some Chinese journalists are unsatisfied with the official response so far. “The authorities never tell you what really happened. They just want you to hate blindly, fear inexplicably, live in confusion, and die for nothing,” said Luo Changping, deputy editor of the Chinese business magazine Caijing, writing on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform.
Piao Baoyi, a media veteran in China, said he received notice on midnight of March 1, the day of the attack, that all reports must “strictly follow Xinhua’s reporting or local official information. No big headlines, no pictures.”
Liang Jian, director of City Times, a local newspaper in Kunming, also noted online that: “Sorry, we probably don’t need to wait for the morning news press anymore. All the journalists waiting outside of Kunming Public Security Bureau are leaving now.” This was because Xinhua was to be the sole source of information, and the journalists’ jobs were unnecessary.
The violence in Kunming took place at a sensitive time in China: major political meetings are set to begin in Beijing this week, with Party head Xi Jinping giving an address about the regime’s work over the last year. The anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre is only months away, and some in and outside China are already agitating for it to be properly memorialized. And the Party appears to be slowly making public its intention to take stern action against Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar and one of the top-ranked members of the Chinese Communist Party. Following the attacks, a notice appeared on what purported to be a semi-official website, announcing a notice about Zhou.
The massacre on Saturday would constitute the second recent violent incident attributed to Uyghurs recently.
Last October a jeep crashed and exploded at the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, killing five people, including three people in the vehicle. Later, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Turkistan Islamic Party, is said to have claimed responsibility, though experts questioned its organizational capacity.