Twelve people died in clashes with police in the troubled Xinjiang autonomous region in western China on Friday, after causing explosions at a hair salon and a vegetable market, says state-controlled news agency Xinhua in an unverified report.
The news agency said six assailants were gunned down by police, while six others died after setting off explosives. Five people were also arrested in what the police described as a “premeditated terrorist attack.”
On Saturday, state media also reported that a leading Uighur scholar in Beijing, economics professor Ilham Tohti, was being investigated for “separatist activities.” He has been detained since Jan. 16.
Beijing routinely blames militant Islamist separatists for violence in the region, and has ramped up policing efforts after singling out the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as responsible for a suicide attack in October in the Chinese capital’s Tiananmen Square.
Rights groups and advocates for Xinjiang’s Uighur population condemn the central government for its heavy-handed grip on the region, and point to a lack of rights and religious freedoms.