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Chinese official blames Internet for recent terrorist attack

A Chinese government official is blaming an abundance of online freedom for a recent attack in the country's Xinjiang region that left 29 dead and 130 injured.

Numerous parties are growing increasingly critical of the Chinese government. Many people who live in certain parts of the country would like to be part of an independent nation, including those who live near Tibet, along with the Uighur population that lives in the Xinjiang region.

Recently, the tensions in the latter part of the country reached a boiling point following a mass stabbing in the city of Kunming. The Los Angeles Times reported that in early March, attackers moved into a waiting area at a local train station and stabbed the people in the area, seemingly at random. The news source reported that the there was roughly 160 casualties. Four of the attackers were shot said by police, but at the time of publication, March 2, there were at lease five suspects at large.

A conflicted region
The attackers were reportedly members of the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in the region know as Uighurs. Much of the Uighur community would like to see their region become independent of China. It is important to note that no group has come forward to take responsibility for the attacks, so it is still unconfirmed as to who is responsible for the attacks for certain.

Tensions in the region have been heated for decades. For instance, a riot in 2009 resulted in 200 deaths in the city of Urumqi. Since then, deadly clashes have been relatively common throughout the region. It is believed that these ongoing tensions could be a major reason behind the early March attacks.

Role of Internet freedom
One Chinese official from the region attributed the attacks to the use of Internet circumvention technology, according to the Epoch Times.

These technologies, many of which have been created by companies like Google, allow users who would otherwise have restricted Internet access to fully explore cyberspace. Websites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China. Further, those who are critical of the government, like artist and blogger Ai Wei Wei, are often punished for the kind of content that they put online.

Recently, Zhang Chunxian, who is the Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang region, argued that the online tools that allow users to circumvent these controls – referred to as the Great Firewall of China – are what led to these attacks.

"90 percent of the violent terrorist attacks by Xinjiang [separatists] are due to circumvention technologies for breaking the firewall," said Zhang, according to the news source. "They use videos on the Internet to continue organizing the attacks."

What policy works?
While the government has attributed these attacks to users' ability to navigate around these controls, others believe that it is this kind of control over personal freedoms that has led to these tensions in the first place. These online controls speak to a larger issue for people in the area.

The Epoch Times reported that the ruling party's harsh ethnic policies have led the Uighurs to radicalize and engage in these violent acts. Many netizens believe that by strictly limiting the issue to internet access, the government shines no light on its own actions. Some users noted that one state run news agency has a Twitter account and the highest ranking government official, a Facebook profile.

It is difficult to make sense of these attacks. The killing of innocent people is never excusable, and this is certainly true of these recent attacks. But it is essential to examine the reasons behind these attacks and what they mean for the societal situation governing the region, and the rest of the country as a whole. It is certainly tough to find the right answer, if there is one, but these actions do very little to discourage violent conflict in the region.

The Epoch Times reported that Zhang's remarks about online control were removed from the news and Internet by government censors.

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