XINJIANG, China: Armed police in bulletproof proof vests are on patrol every 10 to 20 metres on the streets of Pishan county in China's restive Xinjiang region after eight people were killed during a knife attack, residents in the area said.
The county has issued the highest level of security alert after what the authorities described as a terror attack on Tuesday evening.
Three knife-wielding assailants attacked people in a residential compound. Five residents were killed and the three attackers were shot dead by police, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported
Five people were also seriously injured.
The government did not identify the suspects and victims, but some residents said the attackers were Uygurs, the main Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang.
A hotel manager said she was still in shock after the violence
"It is the worst attack in Pishan in recent years. We hope the victims find rest in heaven," said the woman, who asked not to be named.
The attacks took place at the entrance to a residential compound, according to the hotel manager. The compound is in the west of the city, not far from the county government headquarters.
A restaurant owner told the South China Morning Post most businesses and shops were open despite the huge security presence.
"My business has not been affected. I don't smell fear in the air," the Uygur restaurant owner said.
Pishan county has been dubbed by law enforcers a "hotbed for terrorism", according to an article in the state-run tabloid the Global Times following a suicide bomb attack three years ago.
Four people from Pishan took part in bomb attacks at a morning market in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi in May 2014. Thirty-nine were killed, plus four of the attackers. Nearly 100 were injured.
Xinjiang has been hit by a series of violent attacks in recent years which the authorities have blamed on Muslim separatists.
The authorities have denied allegations by rights groups and exiled Uygurs that tensions have been inflamed by curbs on religion and ethnic minority culture and language in the region.
But in Pishan many Uygurs openly challenge government's policies such as a ban on women and children wearing a veil to cover their face, according to the Global Times.
Most Uygurs living in Pishan's villages do not speak Putonghua and the language barrier has widened the divide between Uygurs and Han Chinese, the report said.
The article added that the government does not allow young Uygurs to get married unless they have completed middle school education, which has further inflamed anti-Chinese sentiments.
Xinjiang's Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo has launched a fresh crackdown against the militants since he took office last year, including setting up a large network of small police bases and restricting the travel of some residents.
Two senior officials in Xinjiang were placed under investigation for corruption and dereliction of duty last month days after a suicide attack rocked an office building in Karakax county.
Police shot and killed the three attackers wielding knives who managed to detonate a home-made explosive device, Xinhua reported.
An official and a security worker were also killed and three others wounded. – South China Morning Post