BEIJING — Chinese police have arrested six people they suspect of taking part in a riot near the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, in the restive far western Muslim region of Xinjiang, in which 16 people were killed, the regional government said.
The arrests, reported by the Xinjiang government in a statement on an official news site late on Monday, came a day after Chinese police shot and killed 14 people during the riot. Two policemen were also killed.
The government statement called the incident “an organized, pre-meditated, violent terror attack”.
“The gang repeatedly gathered to watch violent, terrorist videos, promoted extremist religious ideology, manufactured explosive devices and guns, conducted test explosions several times and planned to carry out violent terrorist activities,” the Xinjiang government said.
China has previously called some of the violence in Xinjiang the work of Islamist militants plotting holy war.
On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry stopped short of directly blaming Islamist militants but said a “violent terror gang” attacked police with explosives.
The Xinjiang government said the “terror gang” made up of 20 members was formed in August and was led by a person they named as Hesen Ismail.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the charges. Foreign journalists are often harassed and sometimes denied access to sensitive areas in Xinjiang.
A police officer reached by Reuters on Monday in the county where the incident occurred said it was “not convenient” to provide any additional information.
The government says police were attacked by a mob throwing explosives and wielding knives when they went to arrest “criminal suspects” in a village near Kashgar.
“The officers entered a house and found a large number of people were holding an illegal gathering,” influential tabloid the Global Times, published by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily, quoted an unidentified Xinjiang official as saying.
“As the police carried out inquiries, some of the people remonstrated and staged a confrontation. They suddenly stabbed the police with knives. Two officers, who were caught off guard, died at the scene,” the official said.
Rights groups and exiles say police often use heavy-handed tactics against the Muslim Uighur community, which calls Xinjiang home.
Many of Xinjiang’s Turkic-speaking Muslim people chafe at restrictions on their culture, language and religion, although the government insists it grants them broad freedoms.
China has stepped up security in Xinjiang after a vehicle ploughed into tourists on the edge of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October, killing the three people in the car and two bystanders.
China said that attack was carried out by Islamist militants, and has reacted angrily to suggestions that it was because of frustration and anger over government repression of Muslims in Xinjiang.
There have been numerous incidents of unrest in Xinjiang in recent years, which the government often blames on the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement, even though many experts and rights groups cast doubt on its existence as a cohesive group.