BEIJING (AP) — State television on Sunday showed a teenage suspect in an attack on a mahjong games room in China's restive western region confessing and apologizing, and saying he had been influenced to carry out a holy war.
China Central Television identified the man in Mandarin as Mu'er Zhati and said the interview with their reporter took place in a local detention center. Mu'er spoke in Uighur, the language of the native Muslim Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) people of the Xinjiang region who want more autonomy from Beijing. Extremists among them have been blamed for a spate of attacks on civilians, including a market bombing last month that killed 43 people in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi.
The official Xinhua News Agency later reported that the man's name was Murzahti and that he was 19. It said his two accomplices who had died from serious injuries after local people fought back were called Abduzahir and Abdughappar, also Uighur-sounding names.
CCTV said Mu'er was one of three attackers who entered a games room in Hotan city last Sunday evening and used axes to slash at people playing mahjong. The players fought back with chairs and the three ran outside but were caught by people armed with sticks until security forces arrived. Four civilians were wounded.
Simmering ethnic tensions have escalated in the past year, as assailants have begun to strike outside the region and at civilians, a departure from their previous targets of government offices, police stations or other symbols of rule by the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
Police said the attackers were influenced by watching overseas religious extremist videos, CCTV reported. Mu'er said the head of the gang who had been killed had told him that if he died carrying out jihad, or holy war, he would directly enter heaven.
Mu'er, shown with a bandage on his head, said he was sorry for his behavior and if he gets out of detention he won't do anything like that again and will take care of his parents at home. CCTV often airs footage of suspects apologizing for crimes such as stealing or fraud and has also shown footage of the interrogation of high-profile individuals. Critics say the airing of confessions before a court gets to hear the case — and sometimes before charges are filed — tramples on China's rule of law.
On Saturday, police in Kashgar in Xinjiang's southwest on Saturday shot dead 13 assailants who rammed a truck into a police office building and set off explosives, state media said. Three officers were wounded.
The government has tried to stem attacks by handing down heavy punishments to those authorities say organized, led and participated in terrorist groups, committed arson, murder, burglary or illegally manufactured explosives. Earlier this month, China executed 13 people in Xinjiang for such crimes.
Uighur activists say public resentment against Beijing is fueled by an influx of settlers from the Han majority, economic disenfranchisement and onerous restrictions on Uighur religious and cultural practices.
China says it has made vast investments to boost the region's economy and improve living standards.