A court in southern China sentenced three people to death and one to life in prison on Friday for perpetrating a gruesome knife attack on a train station this spring, an incident that shocked the country and underscored the severity of ethnic conflict in the north-western region Xinjiang.
At the end of a one-day trial, prosecutors in Kunming, the capital of south-west China's Yunnan province, found four defendants guilty of orchestrating the attack on 1 March, in which eight black-clad assailants indiscriminately hacked at bystanders with knives and machetes, killing 29 people and injuring 141.
Police shot four attackers dead at the scene, and captured one. State media has offered conflicting accounts of when the remaining four attackers – three men and one woman – were detained.
Prosecutors charged all four suspects with intentional homicide. Iskandar Ehet, Turgun Tohtunyaz and Hasayn Muhammad were charged with "organising and leading a terror group", and sentenced to death. The fourth, Patigul Tohti, was charged with joining a terror group and received a life sentence.
While Xinhua did not explicitly state their ethnicities, it strongly implied that the four defendants were Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking group from the far north-western region Xinjiang.
The region has seen an explosion of violence over the past year – 323 people have died in violence related to the region's ethnic struggles since last April, according to the Associated Press, with half of those deaths incurred by police. Authorities have blamed the clashes on the spread of separatism and religious extremism, while Uighur groups abroad call them a desperate expression of economic, cultural and religious grievances.
China has cracked down on the region in the wake of the attacks, waging a so-called "strike-hard" campaign against terrorism. Authorities broke up 200 "terror cells" in Xinjiang last year, up from 140 in 2010, state media reported.