China Blames Muslim Separatists for Knife Attack That Killed At Least 29

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 2 2014 3:03 PM

China Blames Muslim Separatists for Knife Attack That Killed At Least 29

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Armed policemen stand guard on the square outside the railway station in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan province on Sunday

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

The bizarre mass stabbing that killed at least 29 people and wounded 143 at a train station in southern China was the work of separatists from the far west of the country, according to authorities. Police fatally shot four of the estimated 10 masked assailants, bringing the total death toll to 33, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Although the identities of the attackers are still uknown, Xinhua publishes a separate story noting that “evidence at the crime scene showed that the Kunming Railway Station terrorist attack was orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist force.” The far western region of Xinjiag is where members of the Muslim Uighur community have launched a rebellion against Beijing. On Sunday, police began rounding up members of the small Uighur community for questioning, according to the Associated Press.

If what the authorities are saying is true, what the Chinese media are already referring to as “China’s 9-11” would mark the first time the people from Xinjiang have been blamed for such a deadly and large-scale attack and it illustrates how the violence is no longer confined to Xinjiang as it once was. “Tensions are likely to get much worse before they get better,” writes Bloomberg’s Christina Larson. “While most of China’s 10 million Uighurs are neither murderers nor active participants in a separatist movement, suspicion falls on all.” And it’s exactly this type of generalization and assumption of guilt that angers members of the community.

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How did 10 people manage to kill and injure so many people in such a short period of time? It seems speed, big knives, and aiming for the heads all played a role, according to witnesses who talked to Reuters. "I was terrified ... they attacked us like crazy swordsmen, and mostly they went for the head and the shoulders, those parts of the body to kill," one injured 20-year-old said.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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