BEIJING – A mastermind of violence in China’s Xinjiang region in which almost 100 people were killed sought to establish an Islamic state, official media said yesterday, reinforcing government warnings about an Islamist threat.
A court in the far western region sentenced 12 people to death on Monday for an attack in Xinjiang’s southern Yarkant county on July 28, in which the government said 59 terrorists were gunned down by security forces, while 37 civilians were killed.
The incident was one of the bloodiest bouts of unrest in the region that has seen hundreds of people killed in the past two years, most in clashes between ethnic Uighur Muslim people, who call Xinjiang home, and ethnic majority Han Chinese.
China Central Television (CCTV) showed several Uighur defendants dressed in orange prison uniforms confessing and expressing regret for their crimes.
They said they had been brainwashed into “holy war” by a man named Nulamaiti Sawuti, who the government said incited the violence in July and was killed then.
China’s legal system is under tight government control and it is unclear if such confessions are coerced. At least one defendant’s case was handled “leniently” because he confessed and as a result was given life in prison, the Xinjiang government’s news site, Tianshan, reported.
“He talked about jihad, about establishing an Islamic state,” one Uighur defendant, identified as Ailimu Rouze, told CCTV, referring to Sawuti.
“We often thought about carrying out holy war,” another defendant, Aili Tuersun, said.
China has long argued that separatists in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, hope to establish an independent state called East Turkistan.