A car bomb was detonated in Karakax County, Western Xinjiang, just before 5 pm on December 28, 2016. According to statements from the local government in China’s restive Xinjiang, a car was driven into the local Communist Party offices, with passengers emerging with knives, attacking government employees before detonating a bomb. One government official was said to be killed, along with three others injured, before police shot all four attackers dead at the scene.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, labelled it a ‘terrorist attack’ in their English report.
Xinjiang has seen an increase in violence in recent years due to tensions between the majority ethnically Muslim Uyghurs, native to the region, and the Han Chinese, who the government has been increasingly resettling in the region. Xinjiang, a large region in Western China, is home to abundant natural resources, including oil and gas, making it a region of particular interest to Beijing. Government policies have been seeing an increasing erosion of both religious and cultural freedoms for the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, and the official line claims that such policies are necessary to tackle the ‘terrorism’ in the region. Experts recognise that the resentment among the locals and the resulting violence is an obvious result of the governments’ hard-line policies that are seeing the lives of Uyghurs suppressed.
Despite this, 2016 had been a relatively quiet year in terms of major violent incidents in Xinjiang. However, Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, doubts the authenticity of the government’s official account. This may be a reference to the coal mine attack in September 2015, which the government delayed reporting until two months later when it stated that “security forces had killed 28 of the ‘terrorists’ involved”.
There are also speculations around this incident’s relation to the regions’ new administration. Chen Quanguo, who previously oversaw Tibet where he earned himself a reputation for his tough policies, took on the role of Xinjiang’s Communist Party Chief a few months ago. His predecessor, Zhang Chunxian had received praise for his attempts to relieve some of the regional tensions, by relaxing some of the restrictions on Uyghurs applying for passports and engaging with religious leaders. However, since Chen’s arrival, police presence in the region has increased significantly, and residents have been ordered to hand their passports into local government offices. There is no clear indication that this attack has any connection to the new regional chief or his policies. News in Xinjiang remains difficult to verify independently, given the restrictions on foreign reporters in the region.