KASHGAR, China — China said Monday that two assailants in a truck mowed down a group of jogging policemen, then tossed grenades and slashed gasping survivors with knives in an attack that left 16 officers dead in this restive Muslim region in the nation's far west.
It was the bloodiest such attack in recent times in China, and it sent trepidation through the country just four days before the Summer Olympic Games open.
The state news agency, Xinhua, said the policemen were jogging at about 8 a.m. in this westernmost desert outpost on the old Silk Road when the truck plowed into them and the two assailants jumped out.
The assailants later were arrested, Xinhua said, but the agency didn't identify them or say whether they were ethnic Muslim Uighurs, a minority that chafes deeply at majority Han Chinese control of its religious and cultural lives. No group took immediate responsibility for the attack.
Residents near the site on a main thoroughfare pointed out a damaged electrical pole and other signs of the attack, although blood already had been washed away.
The policemen were on a daily morning jog, residents said.
”Every morning, they run along this street,“ said a man who identified himself only by the surname Xia. ”They were hit by the truck. The two people used knives and killed some of them.“
Another 16 officers were injured, Xinhua said, some of them from knife wounds.
”This is the most serious incident of anti-state violence publicly recorded in more than a decade,“ said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher based in Hong Kong for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group.
The attack is certain to heighten China's security measures during the games. Already, surface-to-air missile batteries have been installed around some Olympic venues in Beijing, and some 100,000 security forces stand on alert around the capital.
The Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) speak a Turkic language and have strong links to ethnic groups in Central Asia and even as far as Turkey.
Concerns that Uighur militants might try to disrupt the Olympic Games grew July 23 with the release of a three-minute video from a Uighur militant identified by the single name of Sayfullah. He said he belonged to the Turkistan Islamic Party, and claimed that the group was responsible for explosions in May on a bus in Shanghai that killed three people and on two buses in Kunming in southern China on July 21 that killed two people.
”This is our last warning to China and the rest of the world,“ Sayfullah said on the videotape. ”The Turkistan Islamic Party plans military attacks on people, offices, arenas and other activities that are connected to the Chinese Olympic Games.“
Earlier this year, China said it had arrested 82 ”suspected terrorists“ in Xinjiang, accusing them of plotting against the games.