Critics accuse China of using Paris attacks to hammer Xinjiang

TOKYO -- A curious message from China's Ministry of Public Security appeared online on Nov. 14, a day after the Paris terrorist attacks. "All terrorists were killed on the 56th day of a 'pursue and attack' operation," it reportedly said. No further information was offered and the message was removed soon after, but it was enough to pique China watchers' interest.

The timing of the announcement of the security operation points to an effort by China to paint its crackdown on Uighurs as part of the worldwide fight against terrorism, but there are many unanswered questions regarding what happened.

Reporting the fight

It is widely assumed the ministry's announcement referred to the search for suspects in a Sept. 18 attack at a coal mine in Aksu, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which killed 50 people. Radio Free Asia, a US media outlet, reported the incident within a few days, but the government remained silent -- until the Nov. 14 announcement. That was followed by a Radio Free Asia report on Nov. 17 that police blew up a cave in which 17 people were hiding, including the suspected militants, four women and three children. The raid killed everyone, according to the report.

Three days later, on Nov. 20, the Xinjiang Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang, published an official statement. It said 16 people were killed in the mine attack, and that the authorities mopped up 28 "terrorists" on Nov. 12, after nearly two months of pursuit. The newspaper made no mention of women and children among the suspects. It claimed the militants were under the control of an overseas extremist group.

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