Western tourists saw a body lying in a pool of blood in a major city in China’s violence-prone Xinjiang province on Wednesday, as security forces flooded in after the government said dozens of knife-wielding attackers were shot dead elsewhere in the region earlier in the week.
State media said a gang armed with knives first attacked a police station and government offices on Monday in the town of Elixku, in Shache county, about 200 km (125 miles) from the old Silk Road city of Kashgar in China’s far west.
Some moved on to the nearby town of Huangdi, attacking civilians and smashing and setting fire to six vehicles, in what the official Xinhua news agency called an “organised and premeditated terrorist attack”.
“Police officers at the scene shot dead dozens of members of the mob,” the brief report said.
Xinjiang, home to many Turkic-language speaking Uighurs, has been beset by violence for years, which the government blames on Islamist militants or separatists who it says are bent on establishing an independent state called East Turkestan.
There were indications that unrest had spread by Wednesday to Kashgar, a popular tourist site especially during the summer.
A French traveller said he saw a body lying in a pool of blood outside the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar’s old town on Wednesday morning, and armed police pouring into the city by afternoon.
“We heard shouting and my friend saw two people running away with knives. Police came quickly and told people not to take pictures. They checked mobile phones,” he told Reuters by telephone.
He added that it was the reasons for the violence were unclear and he could not tell if those involved were Uighur or members of China’s majority Han ethnicity.
When leaving Kashgar on Wednesday, the traveller said a long convoy of armed police vehicles, including at least five armoured personnel carriers, drove into the city.
“All cars coming into Kashgar were being turned around,” he said.