BEIJING — At least 29 people were killed by knife-wielding attackers in a “violent terrorist attack” at a train station in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, and police shot dead five of the assailants, state media said on Sunday.
Another 113 people were wounded, the official Xinhua news agency said, revising down a previous higher figure. The agency said the attack had taken place late on Saturday evening.
“It was an organised, premeditated violent terrorist attack,” Xinhua said.
China blamed militants from the restive far western region of Xinjiang on Sunday (local time) for the attack.
The attack, in the balmy southwestern city of Kunming, marks a major escalation in the simmering unrest which had centred on Xinjiang, a heavily Muslim region strategically located on the borders of Central Asia.
It is the first time people from Xinjiang have been blamed for carrying out such a large-scale attack so far from their homeland, and follows an incident in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October which shook the country’s Communist leadership.
China has stepped up security in Xinjiang after a vehicle ploughed into tourists on the edge of Tiananmen Square, killing the three people in the car and two bystanders. China labelled it a suicide attack by militants from Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is home to the Muslim Uighur people, many of whom chafe at Chinese restrictions on their culture and religion.
China bristles at suggestions from exiles and rights groups that the unrest is driven more by unhappiness at government policies than by any serious threat from extremist groups who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.
Police were searching for around five others of the unidentified attackers, Xinhua said.
Kunming resident Yang Haifei told Xinhua that he was buying a ticket when he saw a group of people, mostly wearing black, rush into the station and start attacking bystanders.
“I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone,” he said, adding that the attackers caught those who were slower. “They just fell on the ground.”
Graphic pictures on the Twitter-like website Sina Weibo showed bodies covered in blood lying on the ground at the station.
State television showed police wrapping a long, sword-like knife in a plastic bag, amid heavy security at the station.
There was no immediate word on who was responsible.
Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered no effort be spared to track down those behind the attack.
“Severely punish in accordance with the law the violent terrorists and resolutely crack down on those who have been swollen with arrogance,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.
“Understand the serious and complex nation of combating terrorism,” Xi said. “Go all out to maintain social stability.”
Domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu was on his way to the scene, Xinhua said.
Weibo users took to the service to describe details of what happened, though many of the posts were quickly deleted by government censors, especially those that described the attackers, two of whom were identified by some as women.
Others condemned the attack.
“No matter who, for whatever reason, or of what race, chose somewhere so crowded as a train station, and made innocent people their target — they are evil and they should go to hell,” wrote one user.
The attack comes at a sensitive time as China gears up for the annual meeting of parliament, which opens in Beijing on Wednesday and is normally accompanied by a tightening of security across the country.