BEIJING (AP) — Chinese security forces on Friday fatally shot eight people who attacked police with machetes and drove cars that carried gas cylinders they detonated as bombs in the restive western Xinjiang region, state media said.
Three other assailants died as they exploded the bombs in the attack in the county of Wushi in Aksu prefecture, injuring four people, according to the Tianshan news portal, which is run by the regional branch of the Communist Party.
The reports did not identify the ethnicity of the assailants, but it was the latest in a series of attacks pointing to growing unrest in the sprawling region. Xinjiang is home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule among parts of the native Turkic Uighur (pronounced WEE'-gur) population who want more autonomy from Beijing. Recent clashes, including an attack on police last month, have left dozens of people dead.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the assailants rode motorbikes and drove cars that carried liquefied natural gas cylinders they intended to use as suicide bombs.
They attacked a team of police who had gathered at the gate of a park for a routine patrol in Wushi, Xinhua said, calling the assailants "terrorists."
The Chinese government typically calls such incidents terrorist attacks linked to radicals based overseas, although Beijing has provided little concrete evidence to back its claim. Activists say despair over economic and social discrimination and cultural and religious restrictions are fueling anger among Uighurs.
An exiled Uighur activist accused Beijing of labeling the attackers terrorists in order to justify the authorities' use of armed force against them.
"The cause of the Uighur struggle is China's armed forces' use of violent raids and provocations," said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress. "No one can continue to bear China's provocations and its systematic police of repression."
Police fatally shot eight of the machete-wielding assailants and caught one of them, the Tianshan report said.
Two bystanders and two police officers were injured in the attack, while five police patrol vehicles were damaged, the report said. Photos posted by Tianshan showed a military police jeep and a troop transporter that were heavily damaged, their windows shattered and fronts burned out.
An official from the Xinjiang government who refused to give his name confirmed the Xinhua report, but said he had no more details to offer. Calls to Aksu prefecture's Communist Party propaganda department and Wushi county's party committee and police all rang unanswered, as did calls to Xinjiang's police and party departments.
Aksu was also the site of an attack last month in which assailants threw explosives at police in Xinhe county. Six people died in the explosions and six others were shot dead by police.