KUQA, China (AP) Assailants using homemade bombs launched a series of attacks and engaged police in a deadly battle Sunday in a western Chinese city far from the Beijing Olympics, state media said. At least seven attackers and one security guard were killed.
The pre-dawn violence in the restive Muslim region of Xinjiang came despite tightened security for the games and followed threats by an al-Qaida-linked militant Islamic group to disrupt the sporting event.
The official Xinhua News Agency, citing local police, said one explosions occurred at government buildings in Kuqa county in the early hours of Sunday. Xinhua described the attackers as suicide bombers who used devices made from bent pipes, gas canisters and liquid gas tanks.
In what appeared to be the largest attack, Xinhua said assailants drove a three-wheeled vehicle carrying explosives into the compound of the public security bureau at about 2:30 a.m. An explosion followed that killed a security guard, injured two police and two civilians, and destroyed two police cars.
Police opened fire on the attackers, killing one. Another blew himself up, injuring a third, and a fourth was captured, Xinhua said, citing an unidentified local government spokesman.
Six hours later, a battle broke out in a nearby market where police found five attackers hiding under a counter, Xinhua said. The men hurled bombs at the police, who fatally shot two of them, while the remaining three killed themselves with their own bombs, the news agency said.
Xinhua said the captured suspect told police that 15 people were involved in the attack. Police also seized a taxi used by the bombers, it said.
The already-tight security in Xinjiang was increased in the past week after assailants killed 16 border police and wounded 16 others in Kashgar city on Aug. 4, ramming a stolen truck into the group before tossing homemade bombs and stabbing them.
The attacks mark a dramatic increase in violence in Xinjiang, where local Muslims have waged a sputtering rebellion against Chinese rule. Heavy security had largely succeeded in suppressing violence over the past decade.
Wang Wei, vice president of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, called the attacks the work of "East Turkestan terrorists" - the name some separatists use for Xinjiang - and said no government would tolerate such violence.
"The very purpose of these attacks is all about separating the region from China," Wang told reporters. He said the attackers "want to use the Olympic stage to enlarge the impact."
Authorities shut down Kuqa county, a region 1,740 miles (2,800 kilometers) west of Beijing where some 400,000 people live, for most of the day. Soldiers with machine guns patrolled the streets and people were told not to leave their homes. A Foreign Ministry official in Beijing, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the restrictions were akin to martial law.
Police picked up an Associated Press reporter and photographer while they were reporting Sunday near the scene and drove them to a hotel, telling them they could not leave. On the way to the hotel, they saw one of the explosion sites: a storefront in a line of shops was burnt out, and a three-wheeled vehicle parked in front of the store was completely charred.
After several hours, people were allowed to go back into the streets, though most shops stayed closed. People gathered on the sidewalk outside the places that had been attacked, including a bank, which had its facade covered with a red, white and blue tarp.
A Western tourist in Kuqa, who did not want his name or nationality mentioned for fear of the response from Chinese authorities, said he heard the explosions while he was in bed reading.
"I heard some bombs and then I heard some machine guns," he said. "The bombs sounded like thunder far away."
"We came down to the lobby this morning and it was breakfast as usual," but no one was allowed to go outside, the tourist said.
Residents in the street discussed the attack among themselves, but were reticent to talk to a reporter.
"This doesn't usually happen. It's happening now because of the Olympics, but I don't know who is doing it," said one man, a construction worker, who wouldn't give his name for fear of official retaliation.
Two people from Hong Kong, two Britons and an Australian were unable to leave Kuqa because of the crackdown, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement.
A man answering the phone at the Kuqa Hotel, who declined to give his name, said a tour group of 20 South Koreans was there.
The latest violence came a day after two Americans closely linked to the U.S. Olympic volleyball team were stabbed, one fatally, in Beijing on the first day of the games.
On Thursday, a video purportedly made by the Turkestan Islamic Party was released in which the militant group threatened to attack buses, trains and planes during the two-week Olympic competition.
The group wants independence for Xinjiang and is believed to be based in Pakistan, where security experts say core members received training from al-Qaida.
Xinjiang is home to the Uighurs, an 8 million-strong Muslim minority with a long history of tense relations with the Chinese.
Associated Press reporters Gillian Wong and Charles Hutzler in Beijing contributed to this report.