URUMQI, China (AP) — The assailants tossed explosives from two SUVs as they sped through a packed vegetable market, mowing through customers and wares. Mrs. Li was working the public scale to weigh produce when one of the cars knocked her off her feet.
“It was so fast, it was like a plane flying,” Li, 70, said Friday at a hospital where she was being treated for a broken hip.
The assailants set off more fiery blasts, and all together 43 people were killed and more than 90 wounded in Thursday’s attack, the latest – and bloodiest – violence in China’s far northwestern Xinjiang region in recent months.
A day after the attack in Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi, survivors told of their terror and said they no longer feel insulated from a long-simmering insurgency against Chinese rule, which has struck their city twice in recent weeks.
Mrs. Li’s daughter said the danger of violence was now a much greater factor in the daily lives of Xinjiang’s ethnic Chinese population.
“The violence used to be distant, but now I have my mother lying in the bed suffering. The danger is right here with us and we dare not go out,” said the daughter, who declined to give her name.
Local authorities said police have identified five suspects – four people who died in the attack and another who was caught Thursday – the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said all five had “long been influenced by the religious extremism.” Xinhua said a one-year campaign against “terrorist violence” with Xinjiang “as the major battlefield” started Friday. It said it would make full use of political and legal forces, the army and armed police and focus on terrorists, religious extremist groups, gun and explosive manufacturing dens and terrorist training camps.
Chinese authorities have blamed most recent attacks on radical separatists from the country’s Muslim Uighur minority.
Xinjiang is home to the native Turkic-speaking Uighurs (pronounced WEE’-gurs) but has seen large inflows from China’s ethnic Han majority in recent decades. Uighur activists contend that restrictive and discriminatory policies favoring the Chinese migrants are fueling the bloodshed. The knowledge that Muslims elsewhere are rising up against their governments also seems to be contributing to the increased militancy.
Another woman in the hospital ward, Mrs. Zhang, had just bought her morning fruit and vegetables when an explosive tossed from one of the SUVs slammed her to the ground.
“The SUVs were mowing down people and goods alike,” said Mrs. Zhang, 71. “It is not safe here anymore. We don’t have a sense of security,” she said.
Urumqi was relatively calm Friday, with heightened security around the scene of the attack. The market itself was closed and dozens of police armed with automatic rifles and wearing body armor guarded access points.
Police banned parking within 100 meters (yards) of schools in Urumqi and said drivers can stop only briefly outside hospitals and bus and train stations.
The violence was the deadliest in Xinjiang since riots in Urumqi in 2009 between Uighurs and Hans left almost 200 people dead, according to an official death toll. Thursday’s attack also was the bloodiest single act of violence in Xinjiang in recent history.
Recent attacks show an audaciousness and deliberateness that wasn’t present before. Attackers increasingly target civilians rather than police and government targets.
A bomb attack at an Urumqi train station as President Xi Jinping was visiting the region last month killed three people, including two attackers, and injured 79. Security has been tightened since then.
In response to Thursday’s attack, Xi pledged to “severely punish terrorists and spare no efforts in maintaining stability,” Xinhua reported.
China’s top police official, Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun, was dispatched to Urumqi as the head of a team to investigate the attack.
At a Thursday briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the violence “lays bare again the anti-human, anti-social and anti-civilization nature of the violent terrorists and deserves the condemnation of the world community and the Chinese people.”
In Washington, the White House put out a news release denouncing this “despicable and outrageous act of violence against innocent civilians” and noting that “the United States resolutely opposes all forms of terrorism.”
Prior to last month’s train station attack, Urumqi had been relatively quiet since the 2009 ethnic riots amid a smothering police presence. The sprawling metropolis’ population of more than 3 million people is about three-fourths Han Chinese.
In March, 29 people were slashed and stabbed to death at a train station in the southern city of Yunnan. The attack was blamed on Uighur extremists bent on waging jihad, or holy war.
The increasing frequency of attacks shows growing frustration among Uighurs over government policies seen as discriminatory, said Raffaello Pantucci, a terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London.
“The issues are not getting resolved, and in some ways are getting worse,” Pantucci said. “People are left feeling they have no hope.”
Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Aritz Parra and Andy Wong in Urumqi contributed to this report.