URUMQI, China | Chinese police fatally shot 12 Uighur rioters in Xinjiang this month, the region’s governor said Saturday, in a rare government admission of deaths inflicted by security forces.
In Xinjiang’s worst ethnic unrest in decades, Uighurs attacked majority Han Chinese in the regional capital Urumqi on July 5 after taking to the streets to protest an ethnic clash at a factory in south China in June, which left two Uighurs dead.
The violence left 197 people dead and more than 1,600 injured, mostly Han Chinese who launched revenge attacks in Urumqi days later. About 1,000 people, mostly Uighurs - a Turkic people, largely Muslim, with linguistic and cultural bonds in Central Asia - have been detained in an ensuing government crackdown.
Asked to elaborate on the casualties, Gov. Nuer Baikeli said most of the victims sustained head wounds after they were bludgeoned with bricks and iron rods.
Police shot 12 armed Uighurs attacking civilians and ransacking shops after they ignored warning shots fired into the air, said Mr. Baikeli, a Uighur.
Of the 12, three were killed on the spot, while nine died either on their way to or after arriving at a hospital.
“In any country ruled by law, the use of force is necessary to protect the interest of the people and stop violent crime. This is the duty of policemen. This is bestowed on policemen by the law,” the governor said.
Beijing cannot afford to lose its grip on a vast territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, has abundant oil reserves and is China’s largest natural gas-producing region.
Police exercised the “greatest restraint,” the governor said in a 100-minute interview with a small group of reporters.
“Most of the victims were innocent civilians,” Mr. Baikeli said. “The violent elements were most inhuman, barbaric … extremely vicious, unscrupulous and brutal.”
The unrest was Xinjiang’s “most abominable, had the most serious consequence and the worst impact” since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, he said.
The government handed out copies of a DVD with footage from police and surveillance cameras inside and outside a mosque, purportedly showing three Uighurs trying to force Muslim worshippers to take to the streets.
The knife-wielding trio chased some of the worshippers when they refused, according to the footage. Two of the three were shot dead when they tried to attack patrolling police.
Xinjiang has long been a tightly controlled hotbed of ethnic tension, fostered by an economic gap between many Uighurs and Hans, government controls on religion and culture and an influx of Han migrants who now are the majority in most key cities.
Mr. Baikeli said that the rioting was an attempt by exiled separatists to split Xinjiang from China. He denied the government had a policy of relocating Hans to Xinjiang or forcing Uighurs to work in Chinese cities.
Meanwhile, an al Qaeda-linked group that threatened to disrupt last year’s Beijing Olympics is vowing to avenge Muslim Uighurs who died in this month’s violence, the Associated Press reported.
Seyfullah, military commander of the Turkistan Islamic Party, known as TIP, said in a video issued on jihadist Web forums last week that the incidents were examples of “genocide” perpetrated by the Chinese government.
The video was translated Friday by the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant Web sites. The message contains a photo of Seyfullah in camouflage clothing, his face mostly swathed in white cloth.