BEIJING — More than 10 knife-wielding attackers slashed people at a train station in southwestern China late Saturday in what authorities called a terrorist attack by Uighur separatists, and police fatally shot four of the assailants, leaving 33 people dead and 130 others wounded, state media said.
The attackers, most of them dressed in black, stormed the Kunming train station in Yunnan province and started attacking people in the late evening, witness Yang Haifei told the official Xinhua News Agency from a hospital where he was being treated for chest and back wounds.
[PHOTO: Armed policemen guard their positions in front of Kunming Railway Station in Kunming, in western China's Yunnan province, Sunday, March 2, 2014. More than 10 assailants on Saturday slashed scores of people with knives at the train station, drawing police fire, in what authorities called a terrorist assault by ethnic separatists based in the far west, state media said Sunday. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)]
“I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone,” he told Xinhua, adding that people who were slower ended up severely injured. “They just fell on the ground,” Yang said.
One suspect was arrested, Xinhua said. Evidence found at the scene of the attack showed that it was “a terrorist attack carried out by Xinjiang separatist forces,” the agency quoted the municipal government as saying. Authorities considered it to be “an organized, premeditated violent terrorist attack.”
The far western region of Xinjiang is home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule by separatists among parts of the Muslim Uighur population.
Most attacks blamed on Uighur separatists take place in Xinjiang, but Saturday’s assault took place more than 620 miles to the southeast in Yunnan, which has not had a history of such unrest. However, a suicide car attack blamed on Uighur separatists that killed five people at Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate last November raised alarms that militants may be aiming to strike at targets throughout the country.
In an indication of how seriously authorities viewed the attack — one of China’s deadliest in recent years — the country’s top police official, Politburo member Meng Jianzhu, was en route to Kunming, the Communist Party-run People’s Daily reported.
The violence in Kunming came at a sensitive time as political leaders in Beijing prepared for Wednesday’s opening of the annual meeting of the nominal legislature, where the government of President Xi Jinping will deliver its first one-year work report.
Xi called for “all-out efforts” to bring the culprits to justice. In a statement, the Security Management Bureau under the Ministry of Public Security said that police will “crack down on the crimes in accordance with the law without any tolerance.”
Authorities said five suspects were shot dead but that their identities had not yet been confirmed, and police were hunting for the remaining attackers, Xinhua reported. The news agency said 29 people described as civilians were confirmed dead and 130 injured.
At a guard pavilion in front of the train station, three victims were crying. One of them, Yang Ziqing, told Xinhua they were waiting for a train to Shanghai when a knife-wielding man suddenly came at them.
“My two town-fellows’ husbands have been rushed to hospital, but I can’t find my husband, and his phone went unanswered,” Yang sobbed.