Twenty people died when a group of armed men attacked a market in Xinjiang, the latest outbreak of violence in the ethnically divided Chinese region, authorities said Wednesday.
The motive behind the attack late on Tuesday was not immediately clear, but Xinjiang — a vast northwestern region that is home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority — has suffered repeated outbreaks of ethnic unrest in recent years.
The Xinhua state news agency initially put the toll at 12 dead, including two suspects. But the official information website Tianshan said Wednesday the death toll was 20.
It said 13 were “innocent people” and police killed seven “terrorists”. Another two “terrorists” have been arrested.
“Nine violent terrorists rushed into the crowd with knives, killing 13 innocent people and wounding several others,” Tianshan said.
A police officer told AFP by telephone earlier Wednesday that around a dozen Uighurs wielding axes attacked the market in the remote town of Yecheng, killing 10 people and police then shot five of the attackers dead.
Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, is home to around nine million Uighurs who complain of oppression under Chinese rule.
The number of Han — China’s dominant ethnic group — living in the region has increased dramatically over the past decade, which government critics say results from a policy of migration to dilute any Uighur nationalist tendencies.