URUMQI - Three people attacked and killed the imam of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, south Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, after he performed the routine sunrise prayer at 6:58 am on Wednesday.
Two suspects were shot dead and one was arrested, local police said on Thursday evening.
The imam, Juma Tayier, 80, was a Muslim leader who constantly condemned those who carry out terrorist attacks in Xinjiang in the name of Islam. He was also the deputy president of the China Islamic Association.
Juma had received many threatening letters but was never afraid, his daughter Yimgul Juma said during his funeral. She said Juma's eight children never imagined their beloved father would be brutally slain.
Police tracked down Turgong Turson, Memetjon Yimtila and Nurmemet Abidili around noon on Wednesday.
The three, who have been under the influence of religious extremism, resisted arrest and attacked officers with knives and axes. Police shot dead two suspects at the scene and arrested the other. The case is still being investigated, police said.
It's not the first time that a religious leader from Id Kah, the biggest mosque in China, has become the target of separatists or religious extremists.
On May 12, 1996, three people ambushed imam Aronghan Haji, 76, and his son after they left their house for morning prayers at the mosque. Aronghan was stabbed 21 times in the head, back and legs. Aronghan and his son were severely injured in the attack.
Zhang Chunxian, Party chief of the region, observed a moment of silence for Juma as well as dozens of civilians who were killed in a terrorist attack early on Monday morning in Shache county, Kashgar prefecture, on Thursday.