BEIJING (AP) — China on Sunday blamed a separatist militant group for carrying out a deadly attack at a train station in the western Xinjiang region last month, underscoring Beijing's claims that the country faces a threat from an organized militancy with elements based overseas.
China had previously said the attack, in which explosives and knives were used, was carried out by two religious extremists who were killed in the blast.
Citing the regional government, the official Xinhua News Agency said that the East Turkistan Islamic Movement was behind the attack in the regional capital, Urumqi, that killed three people and injured 79 others.
East Turkistan is the name used for Xinjiang by some members of the region's native Uighur (pronounced WEE'-gur) ethnic group, extremists among which have been fighting for years a low-intensity insurgency against Chinese rule.
Beijing uses its claim of an international conspiracy to defend its crackdown on Uighur dissent, but there hasn't been substantial evidence to support ties to foreign Muslim extremists.
The U.S. initially placed ETIM on a terrorist watch list following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but later quietly removed it amid doubts that it existed in any organized manner. It is still listed as a terrorist group by the United Nations.
Xinhua cited the region's publicity department as saying that the Urumqi attack was planned and directed outside China by an ETIM member called Ismail Yusup, who police are hunting. He ordered 10 "partners" in Xinjiang to prepare for the attack about a week before it happened. The 10 set off explosives and slashed people with knives at the station exit on the evening of April 30, Xinhua said. Two of the members were killed in the explosion and the remaining eight were captured by police, it said.
Calls to the publicity department and information offices of the Xinjiang government, Xinjiang police and Urumqi police rang unanswered on Sunday.
In another high-profile attack blamed on Xinjiang extremists, five knife-wielding men and women slashed at crowds indiscriminately at a railway station in southwestern China in March, killing 29 people.
While Beijing faults separatists for raising ethnic tensions, government critics say restrictive and discriminatory policies and practices have alienated the Uighurs. They say Han people have flooded Xinjiang and benefited from its economic growth while Uighurs have felt excluded.
China has smothered Xinjiang with extra security and imposed additional restrictions on Uighur travel rights, culture and religious practices, which Uighur activists say is exacerbating the resentments driving the violence.