BEIJING: Knife-wielding assailants left 29 people dead and more than 130 wounded in an unprecedented attack at a Chinese train station, state media reported Sunday, blaming separatists from Xinjiang.
Victims described attackers dressed in black bursting into Kunming station in the southwestern province of Yunnan and slashing indiscriminately as people queued to buy tickets, prompting shock and outrage.
Police shot dead at least four attackers and were hunting for the others, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The Kunming city government said the attack was orchestrated by separatists from the northwest region of Xinjiang, a vast and distant area home to the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, Xinhua reported.
Xinjiang is periodically hit by violent clashes between locals and security forces but attacks targeting civilians are rare, and are unheard of in Yunnan, more than 1,600 kilometers from Xinjiang and a popular tourist destination.
The attack comes months after three members of the same family from Xinjiang crashed their car into crowds of tourists in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state, killing two, before setting it on fire and dying themselves, according to authorities.
A knife victim named Yang Haifei, who was wounded in the chest and back, told Xinhua that he had been buying a train ticket when the attackers approached.
“I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone,” he said, while others “simply fell on the ground.”
Some who managed to escape were desperately looking for missing loved ones.
“I can’t find my husband, and his phone went unanswered,” Yang Ziqing was quoted as saying.
She said she had been waiting for her train to Shanghai “when a knife-wielding man suddenly came at them.”
Officers sealed off a wide area around the station, reports said, while police were questioning people at the site.
The attackers were dressed in similar black clothing, the official China News Service said, citing witnesses.
“A group of men carrying weapons burst into the train station plaza and the ticket hall, stabbing whoever they saw,” it said.
State broadcaster CCTV called the incident a “terrorist attack” on its Weibo account.
President Xi Jinping called for “all-out efforts” in the investigation and for the attackers to be punished “in accordance with the law,” Xinhua said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned “in the strongest terms” the “terrible attack on civilians,” his spokesman said in a statement, adding he “notes that there is no justification for the killing of innocent civilians and hopes that those responsible will be brought to justice.” Photos posted on Sina Weibo—a Chinese version of Twitter—showed blood spattered across the station floor and medical staff crouching over bodies lying on the ground, although the authenticity of the images could not be verified.
The pictures showed crowds gathered outside among police officers and ambulances. The injured had been delivered to hospitals around the city, local television station K6 said.
Pictures on the 163.com news portal also showed what it claimed was one of the attackers, who was lying on a stretcher surrounded by police.
The website also showed a local man near the train station carrying a large stick, which it said was for “self-defense.”
Images of spectacles, shoes and baggage strewn across the floor of the waiting room behind police tape, were also posted online.
Beijing maintains that unrest in Xinjiang is caused by terrorist groups seeking independence, an account denied by Uighur rights groups.