A group of around ten masked assailants attired in black and wielding long knives viciously attacked travelers and employees at Kunming Railway Station in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan on Saturday evening, wounding 130 people and killing at least 33. Eyewitness reports described dozens of corpses strewn throughout the station's plaza and ticket hall, with blood pooling on the floor. Chinese police shot five of the group dead at the scene and arrested one. They are hunting for the remaining attackers.
Although no group has claimed responsibility, the official Xinhua News Agency has blamed the brutal attack on ethnic separatists from the northwestern region of Xinjiang, which is home to a predominantly Muslim minority called Uyghurs.
The Uyghurs are a marginalized Turkic Muslim minority from the far western portion of the country who have been persecuted religiously and ethnically by China's Communist government, which often associates Uyghur cultural practices and grievances with the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism. Unemployment is high among Uyghurs because of discrimination; cultural expressions have been restricted and religious schools closed. A growing number of Han Chinese have been encouraged to settle the resource-rich region, escalating tensions.
But Chinese persecution of Uyghurs often goes beyond just discrimination. The government has been widely condemned by human rights groups for brutal crackdowns on the Uyghur minority in the name of combating terrorism. One particularly bloody incident took place in 2009 in the capital of the Xinjiang region that left over 150 dead.
China's government blamed an attack last fall, in which an SUV drove into Tiananmen Square and burst into flames, on Uyghur separatists.
Some Uyghur separatist movements have committed violent acts in the name of achieving outright independence from the rest of China and the right to self-govern “East Turkestan,” the western region of Xinjiang which is predominantly populated by Uyghurs. Locals say that agitation in the region is a response to indignities that have become commonplace. Human rights groups have expressed concern that the Chinese government exaggerates the threat of ethnic terrorism in the region to suit its purposes.
A group of 22 Uyghurs were among the many Muslims that were rounded up around the world and sent to Guantanamo Bay after 9/11. The US government eventually determined that none of them were involved in terrorism, and the last three Uyghurs were released from Guantanamo Bay in December.