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China mourns police killed in truck attack

Aug. 07, 2008, 7:23 a.m. (ET)

URUMQI, China (AP) China declared that 16 border police killed in a brazen truck attack just days before the Beijing Olympics were revolutionary martyrs, as their deaths were mourned Thursday in the country's remote western Muslim territory, state-run media reported.

The assault Monday in Xinjiang might have been aimed at casting a shadow over the games, which open Friday amid extremely tight security in Beijing at the opposite end of the country.

Thousands of people lined the streets Thursday to honor the police in Kashgar, a far-flung city on the ancient Silk Road close to the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Women who answered the phones at Kashgar's police station and government told The Associated Press they knew nothing about the event. They hung up before they could be asked to comment further and identify themselves. Chinese officials are often reluctant to speak to foreign reporters.

The police were killed during their morning jog by two assailants who rammed a stolen truck into the group before tossing homemade bombs and stabbing them. Sixteen other police officers were injured in the attack.

Two suspects were arrested.

Authorities have called the incident a terrorist attack but have yet to link it with a specific terrorist group.

Xinhua quoted Zhu Wanyi, head of Xinjiang's border defense, as saying the 16 have been named revolutionary martyrs.

Xinjiang is a massive, rugged territory - one-sixth of China's land mass - that's home to the Uighurs, a Muslim minority with a long history of tense relations with the Chinese. The Uighurs, with a population of about 8 million, have complained that the Communist government has been restricting their religion and Turkic culture.

The two men arrested were Uighurs, officials said.

Beijing has accused Uighur groups of using terrorism in a violent campaign to split Xinjiang from the rest of the country. China's state-run media have reported sporadic bombings, shootings and riots in the territory over the years, but the dispatches are often sketchy and difficult to verify.