Four suspects in the deadly March 1 mass knifing at a train station in southern China have been formally charged with terrorist activities and other crimes, authorities in the city of Kunming said Monday. No date for a trial was announced, but state-run media said prosecutors would hand the case to Kunming Intermediate People’s Court “soon.”
The bloody Saturday night assault left 33 people dead, including four suspects who were shot to death by police in front of the station. One suspected attacker, a woman, was injured and detained. More than 140 people were injured in the incident.
Three men -- identified as Iskandar Ehet, Turgun Tohtunyaz and Hasayn Muhammad -- were charged with organizing and leading a terrorist group, organizing and planning a terrorist attack and committing intentional homicide. A woman, apparently the female suspect captured at the scene, was charged with actively participating in a terrorist organization and intentional homicide. She was identified as Patigul Tohti.
Shortly after the attack, authorities named the ringleader as Abdurehim Kurban, but never specified whether he was among those killed or detained. No mention of him was included in Monday's announcement.
No other suspects had been identified publicly until now, and it was not clear exactly when or where the three men charged Monday had been detained.
Flags of "East Turkestan separatist forces" were found at the Kunming train station, officials have said. East Turkestan is another name for Xinjiang, a northwestern Chinese province populated largely by a Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority called Uighurs, who have clashed with Han Chinese. Based on the names released by authorities Monday, the four suspects appear to be Uighurs.
China has seen an upsurge in terrorist attacks in the last nine months, both in Xinjiang and beyond the province's borders.
Last October in Tiananmen Square, a group of Uighurs plowed a jeep into a crowd of tourists in front of the Forbidden City, killing two people before the vehicle erupted in flames. All three occupants of the vehicle died at the scene.
In recent months, several attacks have been carried out in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, including a bombing at a train station and an assault on a morning market that left 43 dead.
In response to the violence, government officials have launched a strike-hard campaign. Authorities have been offering large rewards to the public for tips on suspicious activities and have held several mass sentencings of convicted terrorists on sports fields and in stadiums. Anti-terror drills have been held in multiple provinces, and anti-terror patrols have been launched in Beijing.
Officials say many of the recent attacks have been carried out by locals who watched terrorism-related videos and read other materials posted online by foreign jihadists. In response, they have launched a campaign to wipe the Chinese Internet of any such materials.
This month, authorities announced death sentences for 13 convicted terrorists.
Many Uighurs complain of discrimination at the hands of Han Chinese businessmen and officials, and say that certain government policies -- such as barring minors from entering mosques -- are effectively wiping out Uighur traditions and beliefs.
Monday's announcement about the Kunming suspects offered no details on the possible specific motives for the attack. "All the facts regarding to the four suspects' crimes are clear and all the evidence is solid and sufficient," authorities declared.
Tommy Yang in the Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.