(Reuters) – Three suspected Islamist militants armed with knives and axes killed the imam of China’s biggest mosque in the western region of Xinjiang on Wednesday, the authorities said, days after a knife-wielding gang attacked state buildings in the same region.
All three attackers, who were named by the government, had ethnic Uighur names and the imam, Juma Tayir, was a well-known pro-government Uighur who led prayers at the Id Kah Mosque in the old Silk Road city of Kashgar.
Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people, who speak a Turkic language, has for years been beset by violence, which the government blames on Islamist militants or separatists who it says want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.
Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest, a claim Beijing denies.
The men attacked Tayir after morning prayers, the Xinjiang government said on its official news website on Thursday. Two of the attackers were later shot dead by police while the third was arrested, it said.