Knife-wielding assailants launched a frenzied attack in a remote town in China's restive far western region, leaving 27 dead in one of the bloodiest incidents since 2009.
The early-morning violence on Wednesday, which state media were referring to as riots, also left at least three people injured in the Turkic-speaking Xinjiang (shihn-jahng) region, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Police stations, a government building and a construction site were reportedly targeted in the attacks.
The riot is deemed to be the most severe unrest in the regional capital since nearly 200 were killed four years ago.
Xinhua said 17 people were murdered, including nine policemen, before police shot and killed 10 of the assailants in Lukqun, a township in Turpan prefecture. The agency cited officials with the region's Communist Party committee.
Xinhua did not provide details about the cause of the unrest and it was impossible to independently confirm the report. Information is tightly controlled in the region, which the Chinese government regards as highly sensitive and where it has imposed a heavy security presence to quell unrest.
An official reached by phone at the press office of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau said she had only seen news of the violence on the internet and did not have any information. Other officials at the county's propaganda department and police responded by saying they held no details on the incident. Calls to Hou Hanmin, the region's government spokeswoman, were unanswered.
The attack occurred at 6am local time, when most residents would still be asleep. It remained unclear as to what sparked Wednesday's violence though police stations, government offices and other symbols of Han Chinese authority have been targets of attacks in the past.
The report said three assailants were seized and police had pursued fleeing suspects but did not state how many. It said three people were injured by the unrest and were being treated.
An overseas Uighur activist said the conflict was triggered by the Chinese government's “sustained repression and provocation” of the Uighur community. Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, urged the international community to pressure China to “stop imposing policies in Xinjiang that cause turmoil.”
Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority Muslim Uighurs (WEE'-gurs) but is ruled by China's Han ethnic majority. The region borders Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been the scene of numerous violent incidents in recent years, including the ethnic riots four years ago in the regional capital of Urumqi.
China often accuses overseas Uighur activists of orchestrating violent incidents and obscure militant groups sometimes take responsibility, with little or no evidence to prove claims on either side.
Additional reporting by Reuters