22 May 2014

‘I’m scared’: eyewitness to China’s market bomb attack

An explosion in China’s Xinjiang region kills 31 people, with 90 others injured. An eyewitness tells Channel 4 News she is “scared” of a repeat of violence that hit the city five years ago.

  • Dozens killed in market bomb attack in Urumqi
  • Two flights to the city, in Xinjiang, diverted
  • Train station closed after suspected explosives found
  • Latest in terror incidents blamed on Uighur separtists
Police in Xinjiang following explosion

Two vehicles rammed into a crowd at a morning market in Urumqi, the capityal of Xinjiang. Explosives were thrown from the vehicles and one of the vehicles exploded.

This violent terrorist incident once again shows that terrorists are fundamentally against humanity, society and civilisation. China Foreign Ministry

The attack took place at around 7:50am local time, and after the area was cordoned off smoke could be seen rising from the area.

China’s domestic security chief has called the incident an act of violent terrorism and China’s President Xi Jinping has called for President Xi Jinping calls for severe punishment for the “terrorists”, state media reported.

Honmg Lei, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said: “This violent terrorist incident once again shows that terrorists are fundamentally against humanity, society and civilisation. They should be condemned jointly by the Chinese people and the international community.

“The Chinese government has the confidence and the ability to combat the terrorists. These terrorists are swollen with arrogance. Their schemes will not succeed.”

Below: pictures from Weibo of the Urumqi bomb attack. Channel 4 News has blurred images of dead or injured people – but viewers may still find the content distressing.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I was saddened to hear about the terrorist attack that took place on a market in Xinjiang, China, on the morning of 22 May, killing more than 30 people. My thoughts and condolences are with the victims and their families.

“The UK strongly condemns violence in all circumstances, and we stand firmly with the Chinese people at this time.”

Terror attacks

It is presumed to be the latest in a string of terror attacks which China’s government blames on separatists in Xinjiang.

In March this year a group of people armed with knives attacked a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming. 27 civilians and four of the attackers were killed and 140 people were injured.

In December last year 16 people were reported to have been killed in a terror attack in a village near Kashgar in Xinjiang province. Men throwing explosives and wielding knives attacked police.

That attack echoed a similar one in Kashgar a month earlier, in which nine civilians and two police officers were killed.

Eyewitness: ‘I’m scared’

The roots of Uighur unrest in the region are years of repression at the hands of the Chinese government, and violent responses.

Uighur human rights groups have claimed that the Chinese government is supressing the cultural and religious practices of the Uighur community – which is mostly Muslim.

Earlier this month the Uighur Human Rights Project claimed that residents in Shayar County, in the Xiaping Uighur Autonomous Region, were being offered cash rewards for notifying authorities about “suspicious behaviours” – which UHRP said included religious practices.

If you have the ability to leave here, leave here as soon as possible. I am really scared. Eyewitness

Tensions between Uighur people and the state came to a head in July 2009 when Uighur people violently rioted in Urumqi – mostly targeting ethnic Han Chinese. Video footage shows Han Chinese people being savagely beaten by Uighur people.

The Chinese police crackdown has been condemned by human rights groups who say many Uighur people were killed or “disappeared” in the aftermath.

Channel 4 News spoke to an eyewitness to Thursday market attack – who said she was scared. The witness asked to remain nameless, but feared a repeat of the 5 July “incident”.

“I was really scared,” she said. “And we have experienced the 5 July incident in 2009, I feel its better not to look close at things like that because lots of people got killed on 5 July were people who were curious.

“5 July was such a horrible thing. Nothing happened to my family but I was so scared. Now, when explosions like this happen, we are really scared. We didn’t dare to go downstairs to look.”

The witness, who asked to remain nameless, lives across the road from the market. She told Channel 4 News that when she first heard explosions she thought they were thunder, but when she went to the window she saw black smoke.

She describes hearing at least eight explosions.

“I feel that if you have the ability to leave here, leave here as soon as possible. I am really scared,” she said.

Flights cancelled

On Thursday morning it was reported that two flights from Shanghai to Urumqi had been cancelled. An employee of Shanghai-based Juneyao Airlines said one flight was cancelled for “national security reasons”.

Juneyao Airlines’ arrivals information page showed that flight HO1255 was diverted to Lanzhou and HO1299 was diverted to Nanjing.

Posts on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, said that two people on board HO1229 had been arrested.

Chinese police also sealed off a train station on Thursday in the northwestern city of Lanzhou after detecting suspected explosives, state media said.

Chinese authorities discovered the explosives around 4pm the state-run China National Radio said on its website.