Chinese Military: In the wake of a recent plane hijacking attempt, the Party chief of the Xinjiang Ugyhur Autonomous Region urged soldiers to keep vigilant against hostile forces while overseeing a counter-terrorism drill ahead of the third anniversary of the July 5 riot.
Zhang Chunxian, secretary of the Xinjiang regional committee of the Communist Party of China, asked the soldiers Wednesday to strike the separatists, extremists, and terrorists with "iron fists."
China's anti-terrorism force
"We should leave the terrorists no place to hide," said Zhang.
During the drill, soldiers demonstrated special skills such as climbing walls with their bare hands and shooting cardboard "terrorists" with a single shot without harming hostages, according to the regional government's website.
Within seconds, soldiers in dark uniforms and heavily armed broke into rooms on the fifth floor of a building to dispose of explosives and rescue hostages.
They also showcased weapons, communications equipment, devices for security inspection and explosive disposal, as well as safety and transportation equipment.
While commending the police forces for contributing to stability and public security in Xinjiang, Zhang said although the region's overall situation remains stable and controllable, it still faces severe challenges and the basis of its stability is fragile.
In recent years, terrorist attacks and violence in Xinjiang have been on the rise and most prominently connected with overseas forces, experts said.
"From the timing of these terrorist activities, it seems that overseas separatist groups such as the World Uyghur Congress are closely related to the domestic attacks," explained Li Wei, director of the Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
The authorities have put great emphasis on building counter-terrorism forces in Xinjiang and they have played an important role, said Li.
The Urumqi-based counter-terrorism forces were formed in the 1990s when separatists and religious extremists engaged in various terrorist activities such as explosions, assassinations and arson in the region.
Li said that compared with the 1990s, there are more suicide terrorist attacks now.
"Unlike remotely detonated bombs or poisoning, terrorists now attack in broad daylight and throw their own lives on the line," said Li. "Therefore, the situation is more dangerous and more difficult, which requires the special forces to enhance their skills and capabilities, such as rapid response and intelligence collecting."
On July 5, 2009, Xinjiang saw the worst outbreak of violence in decades when riots incited by overseas groups broke out in Urumqi. Nearly 200 people were killed and about 1,700 injured.
Zhang Chunxian investigated the anti-terrorism force station in Urumqi, and experience live firing.
In the southern area of Hotan, 18 people attacked a local police station in July last year, killing three people and injuring two. Earlier last month, local police also cracked down on an illegal Koran teaching site that was holding 59 children.
In the most recent case, six alleged terrorists carrying explosives attempted to hijack a plane from Hotan to Urumqi on June 29. The attempt was foiled by the passengers, several of whom were police officers.
Xinjiang has listed fighting terrorism as one of its top priorities.
Zhang said earlier that the main task of anti-terrorism work for this year entails setting a standard procedure for police confronting terrorist attackers, fighting resolutely against religious extremism, and boosting law enforcement personnel stationed in communities and villages, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Xinjiang has also been boosting its police numbers. Since 2008, Xinjiang has recruited over 3,000 special police officers.