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China says it has evidence deadly Uighur uprisings were coordinated

Women in Islamic dress gave orders as riots that killed almost 200 people broke out in Urumqi, officials say.

July 21, 2009|Barbara Demick

BEIJING — China says it has accumulated evidence that the riots that swept through Urumqi on July 5, killing nearly 200 people, were part of a coordinated attack, possibly by a group with an Islamist agenda.

Security officials were quoted Monday in the state-run press as saying that surveillance videos showed women in long Islamic robes and head coverings issuing orders to rioters. One woman was said to have given out clubs.

"Such dressing is very rare in Urumqi, but these kind of women were seen many times at different locations on surveillance cameras on that day," the official English-language China Daily quoted police as saying.

The rioting broke out several hours after police had seemingly quelled a crowd of thousands of Uighurs who were protesting what they say is discrimination against them. The Uighurs, a Turkic minority, have become angry over an influx of Han -- China's predominant ethnic group -- who they say have taken jobs from them and are endangering their religion and language.

Gangs with clubs, sticks, stones and bricks rampaged through Urumqi, a city of 2.3 million that is the capital of the Xinjiang region, picking out Han at random and beating them, authorities say.

The official New China News Agency said the attacks began almost simultaneously at 50 locations throughout the city.

"If there was no plan or organizing in advance, how could so many people appear in more than 50 places at the same time with the same violent behaviors?" an unnamed public security expert was quoted by the news service as saying.

The Chinese government has insisted since immediately after the rioting that the violence was premeditated, but it had not previously described the nature of its evidence. Police and paramilitary groups have come under criticism for failing to stop the violence.

Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based terrorism expert who has written widely on Xinjiang, expressed skepticism Monday about China's claims.

"It is true that there is significant radicalization of a tiny segment of the Uighur community, but the Chinese government has not as yet presented convincing evidence that this was a coordinated attack," Gunaratna said.

Chinese officials were quoted in the reports as saying that the rioters appeared to have come from outside Urumqi. Many witnesses said they did not recognize the rioters, who were, in the words of businessman Wang Hua, whose shop was smashed, "a bunch of jobless hooligans."

The government now says that 197 people were killed, most of them Han.

Over the weekend, state media said 12 rioters, presumably Uighurs, were slain by police.

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barbara.demick@latimes.com

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