BEIJING – Attackers killed at least 31 people on Thursday when they ploughed two vehicles into a market and threw explosives in the capital of China's Xinjiang region, in what authorities called the latest severe terrorist incident to hit the Muslim Uighur homeland.
More than 90 people were also wounded when two off-road vehicles drove into a crowd in Urumqi, with one of them exploding, the regional government's Tianshan web portal said, in an attack with echoes of a fiery car crash in Tiananmen Square last year. Pictures posted on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, showed victims lying in a tree-lined street, as others sat on flimsy stools.
Flames rose in the background, while other images showed smoke billowing over market stalls behind a police roadblock. None of the photographs could immediately be verified. Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to severely punish terrorists and spare no efforts in maintaining stability, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Tianshan described the attack as a severe, violent terrorist incident. "Thugs broke through protective metal barrier by driving two vehicles, colliding with the crowd and detonating explosive devices, causing the deaths of 31 people and injuring 94,” it said. A witness at the market told Xinhua he heard a dozen big bangs during the attack, which happened at about 7:50am, when Chinese morning markets, which usually sell fresh groceries, are commonly crowded with shoppers.
"There were multiple strong explosions in the morning market at the Cultural Palace in Urumqi," wrote one Weibo poster who said he was less than 100 metres (yards) from the scene. "I saw flames and heavy smoke as vehicles and goods were on fire while vendors escaped leaving their goods behind." China has seen a series of attacks in recent months targeting civilians that authorities have blamed on separatists from Xinjiang.
Thursday's attack sparked outrage on Sina Weibo, with many calling for action against the assailants. "We should learn anti-terrorist methods from the US and Israel which is about talking less nonsense, showing less mercy and killing them all," said one poster. "Whatever demands they have, they shouldn't hurt innocent people!" said another.