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Uighurs Blamed for Knife Attack in China

Alex Finkelstein

Chinese authorities blamed Uighur separatists for a knife attack at a railroad station in Guangzhou, China on Tuesday. The unnamed assailant injured six people before being shot by police. According to the local officials, the stabbings were the work of a lone attacker, but eyewitness accounts claim there were up to three other perpetrators.

Tuesday’s attack is similar to terrorist attacks undertaken by other Uighur separatists. Last week a coordinated bombing and knife attack at a station in Western China killed three and injured 79. In March, another mass stabbing at a train station in Kunming, Xinjiang killed 29. China’s President Xi Jinping promises that China will take “decisive action” and a “strike first” approach to combat violence and terrorism.

Armed police stand guard outside Guangzhou station. (Photo: AFP)

China’s Uighur minority are primarily Muslims living mainly in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Many Uighurs blame Beijing for repressing their religion and culture, as well as taking their farmland for development. While the Chinese government attempts to calm separatist sentiment through economic growth and other projects to improve quality of life, many continue harbor longstanding grievances. A mass influx of ethnic Han Chinese westward into Xinjiang has also inflamed tensions between the Han and the Uighur community.

Rebiya Kadeer, exiled leader of the World Uighur Congress advocates engagement with China on Uighur issues. However, Chinese control of media outlets prevents moderate Uighurs from communicating their message of nonviolence. Further, she also argues that the conflict is a political and ethnic struggle, and not about religious indoctrination.

But the Chinese government provides its own narrative in local media, claiming Uighurs are prone to violence and that Kadeer helped to incite a 2009 riot in which  more than 1,000 protesters violently clashed with Xinjiang police forces. The government also argues that many Uighur extremists and separatists have connections to al-Qaeda. While Al-Qaeda may sympathizes with the plight of repress Uighurs, experts say that Beijing is simply playing up an alleged Al-Qaeda connection to justify repression and enhanced security measures.