China’s Latest Knife Attack Raises Security Questions

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Mourners light candles at the scene of the terror attack in Kunming.

China’s state-run news agency is now reporting that at least 29 people died and 143 were wounded in Saturday’s knife attack at the train station in Kunming. Xinhua said the group consisted of about ten attackers, dressed in black and wearing cloth masks. Four of them were shot and killed by police and another was captured. However, local resident Du Zhenwu told the New York Times that he believes dozens of attackers were still at large. "With the exits all blocked around Kunming, many people think these dozen people are still in Kunming City. They can’t have gone far. So it’s a little frightening for us." Though the rumors have not been supported by the government, the People’s Daily said police are pursuing other suspects.

The attack brings to light long-standing social conflicts between China’s Uyghur population (a Turkic people who mostly traditions of Sunni Islam) and the Han Chinese. While Uighur separatists were also blamed for the Tiananmen attack last October, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress insisted: “We oppose any form of violence, and we also urge the Chinese government to ease systematic repression.” He added, “If this incident was really the work of Uyghurs, then I can only say that it may be an extreme act by people who feel they cannot take it anymore.”

Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, is calling the event an “intelligence failure.” The Times adds that Gunaratna wonders why President Xi’s “increasingly tough policies” have “failed to staunch the violence...which has now spilled over into a distant province with no recent history of major ethnic unrest."