Two Uighurs Sentenced to Death for Xinjiang Police Assault

The New York Times
December 18, 2008

BEIJING — A court in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang has sentenced two men to death for an attack in August that killed 17 paramilitary officers, according to a report on Wednesday by Xinhua, the state news agency. The assault was one of the deadliest against security forces since at least the 1990s.

The court determined that the men, who were sentenced in the attack on Aug. 4 in the remote oasis town of Kashgar, were trying to “sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games that began Aug. 8,” Xinhua reported. The men, Abdurahman Azat, 33, and Kurbanjan Hemit, 28, are ethnic Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people. Some Uighurs advocate independence in Xinjiang and resent what they call discriminatory policies put in place by the ruling ethnic Han Chinese.

Most, if not all, of the paramilitary officers killed or wounded on Aug. 4 were Han Chinese.

The Intermediate People’s Court of Kashgar sentenced the men for “intentional homicide and illegally producing guns, ammunition and explosives,” Xinhua reported.

Chinese officials said the day after the attack that the men, a taxi driver and a vegetable vendor, had rammed a truck into a group of about 70 officers from the People’s Armed Police who were out for morning exercises and had then attacked the officers with machetes and homemade explosives. At the time, the authorities said 16 officers were killed and 16 others injured. The attackers were arrested, the authorities said.

The assault was the first and deadliest of four in Xinjiang in August that officials blamed on Uighur separatists. The violence killed at least 23 security officers and one civilian, according to official tallies.

In interviews in September, three foreign tourists who were in the Barony Hotel, across the street from the site of the assault, gave details of the attack to The New York Times that appeared at odds with aspects of the official version. The tourists confirmed that the truck plowed into the officers, leaving many dead and injured. But they said they did not hear multiple explosions afterward.

Furthermore, they said they saw paramilitary officers using machetes to attack what appeared to be other men with the same green security uniforms. The men with the machetes mingled freely with other officers afterward, the tourists said.

The Xinhua report on Wednesday provides more details of the assault to back up the earlier official version. The report said that the two men, armed with guns, explosives, knives and axes, drove a heavy truck that they had stolen to the site of the assault at 6 a.m. and waited for the officers to emerge from their compound. About 8 a.m., Mr. Azat drove the truck into the officers when they came out for their exercises, killing 15 and wounding 13, Xinhua reported.

When the truck turned over, he detonated explosives to kill another person, according to Xinhua.

At the same time, the Xinhua account said, Mr. Hemit tossed explosives toward the gate of the security compound and brandished a knife at the police who had been felled by the truck. Mr. Hemit killed one officer and wounded another, Xinhua said.

One of the foreign tourists, a man who provided photos of the assault to two Western news organizations, said in September that he saw a severely injured man tumble out of the driver’s seat after the truck had rammed the officers. The driver crawled around and did not appear to be in any condition to carry out further attacks, the tourist said.

The Xinhua report did not give any details on what kind of evidence was reviewed by the court in Kashgar during the trial of the two men. It also did not mention the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a shadowy organization that Chinese officials have long cited as the main separatist threat in Xinjiang. The day after the assault, the party secretary of Kashgar, Shi Dagang, told reporters that it appeared the two men were members of that group.