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China hit by second fatal knife attack in 2 weeks
Publication Date : 15-03-2014
Barely two weeks after one of the worst terror attacks in China in recent memory, a fatal slashing spree in central Hunan province triggered initial fears of a similar attack.
A spat at about 10:15am yesterday at a market in the provincial capital Changsha's Wujialing neighbourhood between two ethnic Uygurs reportedly turned violent, involving a chopper attack.
Vendor Hebir Turdi hacked another vendor Memet Abla to death and then went on a rampage against bystanders, slashing and killing two on the spot and injuring scores of others, including two who died in hospital.
Police shot and killed Turdi as he tried to flee, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
News and photographs of the attack involving the Uygurs quickly went viral among Chinese netizens, many of whom were still reeling from the March 1 terror attack in south-western Kunming city's train station which saw knife-wielding assailants killing 29 and injuring 143.
Beijing has condemned the Kunming attack as terrorism and blamed it on Uygur separatists from western Xinjiang, where China's mainly Muslim Uygur ethnic minority is concentrated.
Many Uygurs are upset over what they perceive to be curbs on their religious freedom and unfairness in government policies.
Within hours, Changsha officials said the attack was a private dispute that turned ugly, effectively ruling out any terror element.
"I can assure you it's not a terror attack. It happened in a market due to some dispute," said a Changsha official cited by Agence France-Presse.
However, with investigations still under way, key facts about yesterday's attack remained unclear with varying accounts from different media outlets.
Xinhua said the incident took place at Shahuqiao Market after an argument between the two vendors from Xinjiang.
But the Hunan Evening News reported that two more people - including a woman - have been detained.
One of the victims was an elderly woman in her 80s who had just walked onto the street, another radio station said.
Photos posted on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo appeared to show bloodied bodies of three men on the ground, with armed police and bystanders nearby.
One photo even showed an agitated male suspect being arrested.
The area was on high alert yesterday, with police cordoning off the crime scene and blocking roads leading to it. A nearby primary school was also closed and pupils were not allowed to leave the campus.
Observers say that while there does not seem to be a terrorist element in yesterday's attack, the involvement of suspects from Xinjiang might make the already jittery public more nervous.
Renmin University security expert Guo Taisheng told The Straits Times that the occurrence of two knife attacks so close to each other might have been just a "coincidence".
"Even if the suspects are Uygurs, it has to be assessed reasonably. These people are the minority and there is no need to link the two attacks together or to discriminate against Uighurs," he said.
Knife attacks that are not terrorist acts, such as those on kindergarten children in the past, have also been perpetrated by Han Chinese, he pointed out.
Still, schools in China are preparing their students for the possibility of a terrorist attack by making them participate in emergency drills, media reports said.