In an audacious and deadly attack just days ahead of the Beijing Olympics, two men from a mainly Muslim ethnic group rammed a truck and hurled explosives at jogging policemen in China's restive far west Monday, killing 16.
The attack in a city near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border brought an immediate response from Olympic organizers, who pronounced security precautions ready to ensure safety in Olympic venues when the Games open Friday.
Yet the timing so close to opening day heightened the attack's shock value and bore the hallmarks of local Muslim militants, said Li Wei, a counterterrorism expert affiliated with the government.
It also came as athletes, Olympic dignitaries and journalists poured into Beijing for an Olympics that some Chinese want to leverage to get the government to address festering grievances. Migrant workers cheated on pay for construction, homeowners angry about pollution and other disgruntled residents believe the government would help them rather than see the Olympics disrupted.
On Monday, about 20 people evicted from their homes for urban renewal projects staged a demonstration only to be surrounded by police.
“We don't oppose the Olympics. But it's wrong for them to demolish our house. It's wrong,” said Liu Fumei, who scuffled with women from the government-backed neighborhood committee who pulled Liu and the other protesters away.
Monday's attack in Xinjiang also underscored that with so much security focused on Beijing, areas far from game venues make tempting targets.
“We've made preparations for all possible threats,” said Beijing Olympic organizing committee spokesman Sun Weide. “We believe, with the support of the government, with the help of the international community, we have the confidence and the ability to host a safe and secure Olympic Games.”
Xinjiang has for decades seen a sporadically violent rebellion by a local Muslim Turkic ethnic group known as Uighurs against Chinese rule. An extremist Uighur group believed to be based across the mountainous border in Pakistan's tribal frontier threatened in a videotape last month to target the Olympics.