A group of black-clad men and women armed with long knives killed dozens and injured more than 130 in a train station in Kunming over the weekend, in the latest in a series of violent attacks in China in recent years.
Officials blamed western China’s Xinjiang Muslim separatists for the attack, and displayed a banner found at the scene that included the Islamic declaration of faith. But in a stark departure from earlier incidents attributed to the group, the attack took place far from Xinjiang, a sign that insurgents are branching out throughout the country in search of soft targets.
Kunming, more than 2,500 miles from Xinjiang, is the capital of the mountainous, ethnically diverse Yunnan province, which does not have a significant population of Uighurs, the Muslim ethnic minority group in Xinjiang. “It shows that Uighurs are, like Chechens in Russia, expressing their discontent throughout the country, not just where they are based,” Dru Gladney, a professor at Pomona College and author of Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic, told The Los Angeles Times.
A car attack last year in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was also blamed on the group, but caused much less damage. If the Uighurs are actually responsible for this weekend’s attacks, “it is without question an escalation,” Magnus Ranstorp, a counterterrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College, told The Guardian. “There hasn’t been anything on this scale, as far as I have seen.”