BEIJING (AP) — Police have arrested all 19 suspects in connection with a deadly clash that began after authorities saw terrorists making explosives in China's western region of Xinjiang, propaganda officials and state media reported.
A total of 21 people died in last Tuesday's violence in a town near Kashgar city. It was the highest death toll for a single incident in months in Xinjiang, which sees recurrent violence pitting members of the Turkic Muslim Uighur (pronounced WEE'-gur) group against the authorities and majority ethnic Han Chinese migrants. Beijing says China faces an organized terrorist threat from radical Muslim groups in the region.
Those killed were 15 police officers and community workers and six assailants, according to Xinjiang's propaganda office. Authorities described the gang as terrorists.
Eight suspects were taken into custody after the clash and state media and a local government said Monday that a further 11 had been captured.
A statement posted on a website run by the Xinjiang regional government's propaganda office on Monday said the 19 suspects belonged to a terrorist group founded in September whose members regularly watched video clips advocating religious extremism and terrorism and attended illegal preaching ceremonies.
Citing police, the statement said the group had planned to carry out a major attack in densely populated areas of Kashgar in the summer, and were seen making explosives on April 23 by local police and community workers, which led to the clash.
Meng Hongwei, the vice public security minister, was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying authorities had discovered a stash of homemade explosives, "lethal weapons," and flags promoting the independence of Xinjiang, referred to by Uighur activists as East Turkistan.
Xinhua said Meng vowed an "iron-handed crackdown against terrorism," saying police would use "every possible means to find and punish terrorists with no mercy."
Also Monday, China Central Television broadcast images of a memorial service for the police and officials killed in the clash. It said Meng attended the service, along with more than 1,000 people from local party and government departments.
Xinhua quoted Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri as saying the incident was "not about ethnic or religious issues, but a terrorist act to split the motherland and undermine national unity."
"The terrorists carried out the attacks on victims, without sparing people of their own ethnic group," it quoted Bekri as saying at a ceremony to award posthumous honors to the dead officers and government workers.
Authorities previously said 10 of those killed on the government side were Uighurs, three were Han and two were from the Mongolian ethnic group. It said two other Uighurs were hurt. The ethnicity of the assailants wasn't given.
A leading Uighur activist has questioned the official account of the incident. Local sources said police sparked it by shooting a Uighur youth during an illegal search of homes, according to Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress.
Xinjiang, a sprawling region that borders Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, is home to millions of Uighurs, many of whom complain of tight restrictions on religious and cultural life by Beijing and say they have been marginalized by policies favoring Han migrants.
Beijing says it treats minorities fairly and spends billions of dollars on improving living standards in minority areas.