KUNMING: Chinese police have captured three suspects in a railway station attack that killed 29 people and injured 143, state media said on Monday, in an incident blamed on Xinjiang militants that triggered fear and fury.
“Three suspects involved in the terrorist attack in the southwestern city of Kunming had been captured,” the official news agency Xinhua said, citing the ministry of public security.
Altogether eight members of a “terrorist gang” carried out the stabbing spree late Saturday, it said.
Four were shot dead by police at the time and a wounded woman was captured at the scene, it continued, naming their leader as Abdurehim Kurban.
China has blamed separatists from its restive far-western region of Xinjiang—home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority—for what it describes as an act of terror, with state media dubbing the incident “China’s 9/11.”
With 20 of the 143 wounded in the attack still in a “critical condition,” according to state media on Monday, defiant Kunming residents queued to donate blood for victims, while others vented their anger.
The rail station rampage, which prompted shock and outrage nationwide, led to tightened security at transport terminals across the country.
Meanwhile, an exiled Uighur rights leader on Tuesday urged China against “demonizing” the ethnic group after a deadly attack for which officials have blamed separatists from the western region of Xinjiang.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) strongly condemned the violence and its exiled president, Rebiya Kadeer, appealed to Beijing not to crack down on the minority.
“At this time of heightened tensions, it is important the Chinese government deal with the incident rationally and not set about demonising the Uighur people as state enemies,” she said in a statement.
In a statement, the WUC said that it “unequivocally condemns the violence” and also expressed condolences to the victims of the attack and their families.
“The WUC urges calm on all sides and calls on the Chinese government to provide assurances that Uighurs will not be subjected to indiscriminate reprisals,” the group said.
Kadeer, once a wealthy businesswoman, fell out with the Chinese government and was jailed before being released in 2005 and moving to the United States, where she is based.
“The fact remains that peaceful dissent against repressive government policies targeting Uighurs is legitimate, so the Chinese government must not conflate this constructive criticism with the events of 1 March,” she said.
It was “absolutely vital” that Beijing addresses “longstanding and deteriorating human rights issues facing Uighurs if tensions are to be reduced,” she added.
The vast and resource-rich region of Xinjiang has for years been hit by occasional unrest which authorities blame on the mostly Muslim Uighurs.
Rights groups say the tensions are driven by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by majority Han Chinese which have led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality. Beijing claims that its policies in the region have brought prosperity and higher living standards.
Authorities routinely attribute violent incidents in Xinjiang to “terrorists,” and argue that China faces a violent separatist movement in the area motivated by religious extremism and linked to foreign terrorist groups.
China has said the WUC is closely connected to terrorist organizations, once describing it as a “downright anti-China splittist organization.”