On the 3/1 Kunming Terrorist Attack

On the 3/1 Kunming Terrorist Attack

At 9:20pm on March 1st over ten knife-wielding attackers stormed the Kunming train station in South-West China, killing at least 29 people and injuring over 140, according to Chinese media,, in what the Kunming government said was a premeditated terrorist attack by ethnic separatists from Xinjiang, in the far West of the country.

The horror made people’s blood run cold, and left them shaking like a leaf in the aftermath. People were screaming in pain and refusing to accept the fact that their loved ones were gone. Across the country, condolences were offered and governments pledged to deal with terrorist attacks with no mercy. The outraged and anguished people staged a candlelit vigil outside the train station, praying for the deceased and the survivors.

Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, the whole world mourns for their loss. But pain and anger serve no more than as sedative drugs, prevention and protection are the way for us to heal and cure.

The Perpetrators

On the evening of March 1st, when the assault took place, police shot dead four of the attackers at the scene. A woman attacker was arrested, while the other several assailants were still at large; police immediately started a manhunt and warned citizens to stay indoors and away from crowds. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged a harsh response to the attack, vowing to “severely punish the violent terrorists according to law, and determinedly crack down on terrorists swollen with arrogance.” Later, heavy police presence was seen across the city of Kunming.

The next day, on March 2nd, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attack and said that there was no justifiable reason for the killing innocent civilians. He also said that those who violate the laws must be punished.

According to Xinhua News Agency, at 8:37pm on March 3rd, the Ministry of Public Security announced that police from Yunnan, Xinjiang, and railway police, together with other public security personnel, had captured the remaining three fugitive terrorists after a 40-hour long manhunt. The attack was orchestrated and carried out by eight terrorists (six men and two women), led by a certain Abdurehim Kurban.

All of humankind opposes extremist and terrorist acts, especially acts of terrorism targeting innocent civilians, and perpetrators of such acts of terror ought to incur harsh condemnation and stand trial. Terrorism and extremism is antihuman, antisocial, and will be subject to moral criticism and legal punishment all over the world. 

The Media

After the attack, many TV channels and social media released very disturbing graphic images and videos of the scene.  Although media had to report on-scene footage, at least they should have censored some of their content or left it to the audience’s discretion. Such videos and images can spread quickly and widely through the Internet, especially social networks, provoking more negative effects than positive ones. Similar measures have been taken to respect and protect both the victims and the audience in other violent crimes such as murder and rape.

Furthermore, some of the media narratives have had a tendency to push the audience towards overreacting, using generalisations. Before the whole story unravelled and was clear, media was calling the attackers “Xinjiang Mobs” or “Xinjiang Terrorists”. A simple change like calling them “terrorists from Xinjiang” would have made a big difference to the majority of  law-abiding citizens in Xinjiang.

Indeed, news media has an obligation to report true, accurate facts. However, after such tragedies, it is also obliged to help the healing process by initiating a debate on the issue, including tragedy prevention, while praising the heroes who risked their lives to save others when the tragedy happened. Also providing people with comprehensive and balanced information so that they can have an informed opinion and can start to heal together with the victims. 

Society

In Chinese social networks, people who learned about the tragedy are posting angry messages, linking the attack to minorities and Xinjiang. 

Some people with unknown ulterior motives have even began to spread rumors such as the fact that “someone paid 100 million yuan to hire around 200 Xinjiang terrorists who scattered across the country to organise attacks”, or that “two Xinjiang terrorists have been captured in Xiamen airport”, besides many other false reports of assaults by terrorists. This is dangerous and counterproductive in terms of dealing and preventing such terrorist attacks.

On the other hand, in terms of nationalities, we are all Chinese people. Let us no longer refer to the perpetrators as “ethnic minorities”, which may victimise innocent groups across the country. We should name those responsible based on the crimes they have committed, such as “extremists” or ” terrorists”. 

Religious freedom is guaranteed, but cults and congregations endorsing or orchestrating such terrorist acts shall be held legally accountable.  The laws are equal for everyone. 

The China Railway Corporation

The Consumer Protection Law protects consumers’ personal safety and property safety, and as the service provider, the China Railway Corporation (CRC) obviously failed to fulfil its legal obligation to do so.

The problem turned out to be that when terrorists started to randomly attack people the frightened crowd fleeing for their lives had nowhere to hide. According to reports by China Central Television, around 200 people ran into a fast food restaurant to seek haven, another 100 ran into a hotel in the waiting hall on the first floor, while many others had to flee to near-by post offices and supermarkets.

In most train stations across the country, security has been weak or virtually non-existent for decades. There is almost no security in the ticket offices, not to mention the square outside the station, places that saw the most casualties.

How is it that the CRC, which is one of China’s most profitable businesses, did not deem it necessary to increase security, including extra personnel (such as armed police) and tougher measures (such as shelters and evacuations) in crowed big train stations? If there had been one armed police officer in the ticket office – all five attackers were shot by one single policeman – or some shelters and evacuations at the station, fewer people would have been injured and more lives would have been saved.

The budget for doing so is considerably smaller than the company’s profits; whereas the price of not doing so was paid with 29 innocent lives and over 140 injuries. This is too painful a lesson to learn.

The CRC is to blame for the ill precautions to prevent such a tragedy and protect its customers. Therefore, victims or next of kin should justly claim legal compensation, which they might need to cover medical payments and other fees during recovery.  For we know attentions will fade away but survivors will still have to go back to their lives. 

The Government

The government in Kunming shared responsibility with the China Railway Corporation to protect citizens from harm.  Yet it failed to fulfil its administrative supervision and management duties to prevent such killing sprees; either by setting up prevention mechanisms or coercing the Railway Company into establishing basic protection and evacuation provisions. Responsible officials should publicly apologise or even resign.

All the condemnation and punishment of those who committed this violent crime, aims only at keeping such tragedies from reoccurring. Retribution and deterrence are not in themselves the ultimate goals; the ultimate goal is to ensure a safe and liveable environment for everyone.

Let us remember, terrorism and extremism shall not push us back, but we together shall push back terrorism and extremism. Let us work together to eliminate hatred so that no one will ever have to worry again about whether he will return home safely when taking the train. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of China Current.

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