URUMQI/BEIJING: Attackers killed at least 31 people 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 region.
At least 94 people were also injured when two off-road vehicles drove into a crowd in Urumqi, with one of them exploding, the regional government’s Tianshan web portal said “Two vehicles, without license plates, broke through roadside fences and ploughed into people at an open-air market in Gongyuanbei Street near Renmin Park at 7:50 am and explosive devices were set off,” said a statement by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region’s publicity department.
Witnesses said explosives were thrown before the vehicles blew up.
A breakfast vendor told Xinhua he saw the two SUVs heading into the street at high speed and hitting people at random. “Four senior citizens were run over and killed in front of me,” the vendor said. A vegetable seller said the cars were weaving randomly. “The cars went past my stall, an old man near us was hit and I feared for my life,” said the seller.
Many of the injured were elderly people who frequent the morning market. At a local hospital, Turnisa Xadawut, 63, told how she lost three toes of her right foot in the explosion. Her five-month pregnant daughter, who accompanied her to the market, was burned on her face and feet, but luckily the baby appears to have been unharmed.
The Xinjiang Regional People’s Hospital received 15 patients from the scene, two of whom were seriously injured. The youngest is 51 years old and the rest are all above 65, said Lei Wei, deputy head of the hospital’s medical administration department.
“The injured include people from both Han and Uygur ethnic groups,” said Liu Hongxia, head of the medical administration department of the regional traditional Chinese medicine hospital.
“Most of them are elderly people,” said she in tears. “I feel sad seeing them suffer.”
A jogger told how he saw flags on the vehicles, with a white background and black characters which ‘seemed like Uygur writing’.
The cars came to a halt at the end of the street and the bombs were set off. An aquatic products shop near the first blast had all its windows broken.
The boss of the shop said the first car stopped because pedestrians it had felled and vendors’ carts blocked its way. “Two minutes later, the car exploded,” the boss said.
A supermarket manager said that a lot of people had rushed to her store to hide. “People were screaming and crying. There was blood on some of them. It was horrible,” she said.
A business owner in the market told Xinhua he heard a dozen big bangs. Most shops along Gongyuanbei Street remain closed and few pedestrians were seen during the day. Police continue to search the area.
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. At the rainsoaked scene of the attack late in the evening, surrounded by police vans, elite police units guarded a cordoned-off candlelight display for victims.
One witness told Reuters he saw the aftermath of the blasts on his way to work. “The air was full of the smell of gunpowder and the sound of sobbing,” he said. “There were simply too many (casualties), old folks who were at the morning market.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to severely punish the terrorists and spare no effort in maintaining stability. He ordered police to step up patrols and control over possible targets to prevent ripple effects, to strike hard against violence and terrorists, and to safeguard social stability. The president also asked local authorities offer his condolences to the families of victims.
Premier Li Keqiang, meanwhile, called on authorities everywhere to step up safety measures and eliminate weak points in public security to protect people’s lives and property. A task force led by Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun has gone to Xinjiang to assist in the investigation. The regional government has launched an emergency response to treat the injured.
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