Six knife-wielding assailants, four men and two women, tore through a busy train station in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, stabbing anyone in reach. The total casualty count was large: 29 dead and 130 wounded. Authorities were quick to place blame for the attack on Muslim separatists from the restive northwestern province of Xinjiang. Some observers in the state media deemed it “China’s 9/11”. The BBC reports:
“This attack is a very significant development in the trajectory of Chinese terrorism,” said Rohan Gunaratna, a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore who studies terrorism in Asia, including China.“It was a low-cost but a high-impact attack which has generated huge publicity,” he added.“Uighur extremists have shown that they can launch an attack far away from their base of operations.”
Kunming is located in China’s southwest, bordering Vietnam, Burma, and Tibet—hundreds of miles away from Xinjiang, the northwestern province that has long been an area of simmering ethnic tension and separatist sentiment. Beijing insists that foreign Jihadists exported extremism to the province and commonly use counterterrorism as a justification for outright repression. Han migration to Xinjiang, encouraged by government policy, has stoked Uighurs’ fears for the loss of their culture and for the region’s already scarce water supplies.For millennia, Xinjiang has existed as a multitude of republics and quasi-states, with regular periods of conflict and invasion. In the 1950s Xinjiang was absorbed into China. Today, the government is struggling to keep a lid on the unrest. Xinjiang is also rich in oil and other minerals, and it acts as a buffer zone between China and the volatile countries of Central Asia.Security guards shot dead four of the attackers and captured one woman during the attack. The remaining three initially escaped, but now the government is saying it has apprehended them and has confirmed their ties to Xinjiang. Leaders have since promised to tighten security measures in Beijing.