URUMQI: Authorities announced a security crackdown on Saturday in China’s Muslim northwest after a deadly bombing raised questions about whether tightening Beijing’s grip might be feeding anti-Chinese anger and a rise of organised terrorism.

Thursday’s bombing at a morning street market selling vegetables and other produce in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, killed at least 43 people and left the region’s ethnic Chinese on edge.

“We don’t know why there have been explosions, but we are definitely worried about personal safety,” said Luo Guiyou, a member of China’s Han ethnic majority who manages an auto parts store.

Police announced names of five people blamed for the attack and said they were part of a “terrorist gang.”

Based on their names, all appeared to be Uighurs, the region’s most populous Muslim minority. Police said four were killed in the bombing and the fifth captured Thursday night.

An anti-terrorism campaign with Xinjiang “as the major battlefield” will target religious extremist groups, underground gun workshops and “terrorist training camps,” the official Xinhua News Agency said. “Terrorists and extremists will be hunted down and punished.”

Beijing blames unrest on extremists with foreign ties, but Uighur activists say tensions are fuelled by an influx of migrants from China’s dominant Han ethnic group and discriminatory government policies. “The violence is an indication that people are willing to take more drastic measures to express their opposition,” said David Brophy, a Xinjiang historian at the University of Sydney.

A heavy-handed response might backfire by inciting sympathy from Central Asian radicals about “the plight of Muslims in Xinjiang,” said Ahmed A. S. Hashim, a terrorism expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technical University.

“In fact, groups like Al Qaeda and others are now beginning to think that China could be a new oppressor of the Muslim world,” he said. In Beijing, the nation’s capital, police announced that they were cancelling vacations for officers and would step up patrols at train stations, schools, hospitals and markets. A measure under which passengers at stations in central Beijing are required to undergo security checks will be extended to three additional stations, the city government said.”—AP

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2014

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