Beijing: China said on Monday that Islamic extremists were behind an attack on the eve of the Muslim fasting month in the restive western region of Xinjiang that left 11 people dead. The attack raised the death toll from weekend violence to 18.
The attack in Kashgar city on Sunday afternoon was the latest violence to shake the region where Muslim Uighurs have long resented the presence of Han Chinese and religious and political controls imposed by Beijing.
It came less than 24 hours after two small blasts hit the city, which is dominated by Uighurs.
"A group of religious extremists led by culprits trained in overseas terrorist camps were behind the weekend attack," a Kashgar government statement said.
An initial police investigation found that the leaders of the group behind the attack had learned about explosives and firearms in Pakistan at a camp of the separatist "East Turkestan Islamic Movement," it said.
Police shot dead five people and arrested four others after they stormed a restaurant, set in on fire after killing the owner and a waiter, and then ran onto the street and hacked to death four people, Xinhua news agency reported.
For the ruling Communist Party, the latest violence presents another tricky test of its control in Xinjiang, where Uighur and Han Chinese residents view each other with suspicion. Beijing has been wary of contagion from uprisings across the Arab world inspiring challenges to Party power in China.
"This was another violent terrorist action by a small group of foes organized and planned under special conditions," the local government said.
Captured suspects had confessed that the ringleaders had earlier fled to Pakistan and joined the "East Turkestan Islamic Movement" and had received firearms and explosives training before infiltrating back into China, it said.
"Their malign intention behind this terrorist violence was to sabotage inter-ethnic unity and harm social stability, provoking ethnic hatred and creating ethnic conflict, splitting Xinjiang off from the motherland, casting the people of every ethnic group into a disastrous abyss."
Xinhua, describing deserted streets and bloody scenes, said many residents had gathered around the area, holding clubs for self-defence, describing deserted streets and bloody scenes.
"There are very few people on the streets, and unless it`s something urgent, I won`t go out," a Han Chinese businesswoman in Kashgar said by phone, adding that there was a heavy police presence in the city. She would give only her surname, Jiang.
In July 2009, the regional capital, Urumqi, was rocked by violence between majority Han Chinese and minority Uighurs that killed nearly 200 people, many of them Han Chinese.
China sees Xinjiang as strategically vital, and Beijing has shown no sign of loosening its grip on the territory, which accounts for a sixth of the country`s land mass and holds deposits of oil and gas.
Critics of Chinese policy in Xinjiang and advocates of Uighur self-rule say that Beijing has exaggerated the influence of terror groups and its tough policies have only deepened Uighur anger by smothering peaceful protest.
Kashgar lies in Xinjiang`s south, where Uighurs predominate. Earlier on Sunday, Chinese media reported that two men wielding knives attacked a truck driver and then a crowd of people following two explosions in Kashgar on Saturday night, leaving eight people dead including one of the attackers.
Eighteen people including 14 "rioters" were killed in an attack on a police station in Xinjiang on July 18, according to the government.