BEIJING, May 22, 2014 -- A series of “thunder-like” explosions rocked a busy open-air market in China’s western city of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang region early today, killing 31 and injuring more than 90 others.
Officials are blaming the incident on radical separatists from the country’s Muslim Uighur minority, with today’s attack the bloodiest in a series of recent violence.
The attack broke out before 6 a.m., a time when residents, especially the elderly, were headed to the market to buy fresh food for the day.
State-run news agency Xinhua reported that two SUV-type vehicles came careening through the street, ramming into people as the occupants threw explosives out the windows. At least one of the vehicles exploded.
Witnesses described the chaotic scene to ABC News. Mr. Liu, the owner of a liquor and cigarette store in the market, said he was still in bed when he heard a loud noise outside his door. He initially thought it was thunder.
“I saw smoke and fire, people lying on the ground and blood everywhere,” he said in a phone interview.
Today’s attack is the second in the city in less than a month. In April a bomb blast in Urumqi’s train station killed three people.
In March, an attack by a gang weilding knives at a train station in Kunming, located to the south, left 29 dead and more than 140 injured.
In response to the attack, President Xi Jinping pledged to “severely punish the terrorists” responsible and spare no efforts in maintaining stability. Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun has left for Xinjiang to supervise the investigation and handle the aftermath, according to Xinhua.
Xinjiang, which abuts central Asia, is home to more than 10 million Turkic-speaking Uighurs, many of them Muslims.
Uyghurs, much like their counterparts in Tibet, have long been dissatisfied with discriminatory government policies. Many claim they are treated like second-class citizens, shut out from China’s economic growth. China labels the group “separatist militants” and blames Uyghurs for inciting ethnic violence. On Tuesday, the local government in Xinjiang arrested 39 Uyghurs for, among other crimes, organizing and leading terrorist groups.