Thirty-one people were killed and more than 90 injured in an attack Thursday on a busy street market in the capital of China’s volatile northwestern region of Xinjiang, the local government said, the bloodiest in a series of violent incidents blamed on radical separatists.
The Xinjiang regional government said in a statement that the early morning attack in the city of Urumqi was “a serious violent terrorist incident of a particularly vile nature.”
The assailants crashed through metal barriers in a pair of SUVs at 7:50 a.m. and plowed through crowds of shoppers while setting off explosives, the statement said.
The vehicles then crashed head-on and one of them exploded, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It quoted an eyewitness as saying there were up to a dozen blasts in all.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack.
The death toll was the highest for a violent incident in Xinjiang since days-long riots in Urumqi in 2009 between Uighurs (pronounced WEE’-gurs) and China’s majority Han left almost 200 people dead. Thursday’s attack also was
the bloodiest single act of violence in Xinjiang in recent history.
“I heard four or five explosions. I was very scared. I saw three or four people lying on the ground,” said Fang Shaoying, the owner of a small supermarket located near the scene of the blast.
Photos from the scene posted to popular Chinese social media site Weibo showed at least three people lying in a street with a large fire in the distance giving off huge plumes of smoke.
Others were sitting in the roadway in shock, with vegetables, boxes and stools strewn around them. Police in
helmets and body armor were seen manning road blocks as police cars, ambulances and fire trucks arrived on the scene.
Urumqi was the scene of a railway station bomb attack late last month that killed three people, including two attackers, and injured 79. Security in the city has been significantly tightened since that attack, which took place as Chinese leader Xi Jinping was concluding a visit to the region.
Prior to last month’s attack, the city had been relatively quiet since the 2009 ethnic riots amid a smothering police presence.
The station attack and other violence have been blamed on Uighur extremists.