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Beijing Review Exclusive
Special> Focus on Xinjiang> Beijing Review Exclusive
UPDATED: July 24, 2009 NO. 30 JULY 30, 2009
Plot Unravels
An investigation suggests the July 5 riot in Urumqi was organized and linked to terrorist groups

LIFE RESUMES: Tourists return to Tianchi Lake, a popular attraction 120 km from Urumqi, 10 days after a major riot in the city (HE JUNCHANG) 

Although alerted to a possible protest beforehand, the government of Urumqi did not expect the demonstration on July 5 to escalate into a murderous rampage with brutality, the likes of which the city had never seen, officials said.

"We could never imagine that the mobsters were so extremely vicious and inhumane," said Nur Bekri, Chairman of China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on July 18, adding that the government believed the rioters prepared weapons in advance for use in coordinated attacks. "We really didn't expect that."

As of July 18, the government reported the death toll from the unrest had risen to 197, and most victims were innocent civilians attacked with iron rods, stones, bricks and knives.

Plotted conspiracy

Nur Bekri also said that it "won't be long" before the Internet was completely reopened to the public in Xinjiang. He said that during the riot, the Internet and cell phone messages became the main communication methods for rioters, and it became necessary to shut them down to stabilize the situation and restore social order.

An investigative report by the Xinhua News Agency suggested that the killing and destruction in the autonomous region's capital city seemed more like violence committed by well-organized criminal gangs rather than a spontaneous riot.

The July 18 Xinhua story said the Urumqi police command center received reports that attacks against pedestrians, vehicles and property broke out almost simultaneously at around 9 p.m. at more than 50 spots.

Anonymous police sources told Xinhua that most rioters came from outside of Urumqi, and had prepared their weapons in advance. In the days preceding the riots, there were "noticeably hot" sales of long knives, some of which were used in the attacks, the report quoted vendors as saying. Women in similar long Islamic garbs and black headscarves were the alleged ringleaders. They distributed wood sticks to rioters that were used as weapons during the slaughter.

"Such dressing of women is very rare in Urumqi, but women dressed like this were seen many times at different locations on video surveillance cameras that day," the report quoted unnamed local police authorities as saying.

Police sources also told Xinhua that the most brutal bloodshed occurred in areas of the city containing mazes of lanes and alleys, making the capture of murderers impossible. Police officers said that as they rushed to the scene of a killing, the rioters disappeared without a trace into the small lanes.

The city's bus drivers told Xinhua they suspected that arsonists guilty of burning dozens of buses in a parking lot had studied the vehicle's structure and had been trained on how to effectively burn a gas-powered bus. With only a few exceptions, arsonists set fire to the plastic rear light cover, which could easily cause the gas tank located at the vehicle's rear to explode.

The report also pointed to another characteristic of the rampage—rioters tried to break into government compounds, police stations, People's Armed Police (PAP) garrisons and news media buildings across the city.

A senior procurator of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region said on July 17 the government had almost finished screening riot suspects from detainees, and they expected to arrest their first suspects soon.

Kasim Mamut, head of the region's procuratorate, said more than 100 bilingual Uygur prosecutors had come to help the investigation from other parts of Xinjiang.

"The investigation will be carried out in strict accordance with the law," he said, adding that prosecutorial procedures will be fast-tracked. He said all procedures would still be conducted, including conducting an initial investigation, filing cases, putting suspects under criminal detention, issuing arrest warrants and filing public prosecutions. Mamut also vowed harsh punishment for criminals found to have participated in the violence.

According to Beijing-based newspaper The Beijing News, police authorities also started on July 12 to release innocent people wrongly seized as suspects.

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