Updated: 06/17/2014 00:23 | By Agence France-Presse

China executes 13 for Xinjiang 'terrorist attacks'

China executed 13 people Monday for "terrorist attacks" in the violence-wracked northwestern region of Xinjiang, state media said, as death sentences were issued over a suicide car crash at Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

China executes 13 for Xinjiang 'terrorist attacks'

This screen grab taken from state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) footage on June 16, 2014 shows prisoners on trial at the Intermediate People's Court in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi - by CCTV

The announcement by the official Xinhua news agency said the 13 were involved in seven different cases connected to Xinjiang, home to militants from the mainly Muslim Uighur ethnic group blamed by Beijing for a string of attacks that have rocked China in recent months.

"In one case, three defendants were convicted of organising and leading terrorists to attack police station, hotel, government office building and other venues, killing 24 police officers and civilians and injuring 23 others at Lukqun Township in Shanshan County of Turpan Prefecture on June 26 last year," Xinhua said.

Xinhua did not identify the executed by name, but said "all the death penalties have been approved by the Supreme People's Court, as required in China".

The announcement came hours after state media said three people had been sentenced to die over the Tiananmen crash last October and underscores the tough approach authorities are taking to increasingly brazen and violent incidents.

The Tiananmen attack was one of several that have rocked China since last year, and which Beijing has blamed on separatists from Xinjiang.

- 'Terror' crackdown -

The far-western region is the resource-rich homeland of the country's mostly Muslim Uighur minority, and periodically sees ethnic tensions and discontent with the government burst into violence.

In March a horrific knife assault at a railway station in the southern city of Kunming left 29 dead and 143 wounded. 

Last month 39 people were killed, along with four attackers, and more than 90 wounded when attackers threw explosives and ploughed two off-road vehicles through a crowd at an Urumqi market.

Chinese courts, which are controlled by the ruling Communist Party and have a near-perfect conviction rate, frequently impose death sentences for terrorism offences. 

The executions and sentencings are part of a crackdown that comes after Beijing vowed a year-long campaign against terrorism in the wake of the Urumqi market attack.

Nationwide, China puts thousands of people to death every year -- more than the rest of the world combined according to a March report by Amnesty International. Exact numbers are not available.

- 'Large-scale' campaign -

Shan Wei, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore's East Asian Institute, said Xinjiang has seen other similar "strike hard" campaigns in the past.

"But this time, it's much longer... usually it lasts one or two months," he said. "Now, it's one year. It's a large-scale campaign."

Exile groups say cultural oppression and intrusive security measures imposed by the Chinese government are the main causes of tension, along with immigration by China's Han ethnic majority, which they say has led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality.

Beijing, however, stresses ethnic harmony in Xinjiang and says the government has helped improve living standards there and developed its economy.

One other person was given life in prison for the Tiananmen assault, said state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), citing the Intermediate People's Court in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.

The three sentenced to death were convicted of "organising and leading a terrorist group and endangering public security with dangerous methods", according to Xinhua.

Four others were given prison terms ranging from five to 20 years, Xinhua said.

Both the agency and CCTV identified several of the accused with names that sounded Uighur, the largest ethnic group in the violence-racked region.

All three people in the car -- a man, his wife and his mother -- died in the attack, which saw their vehicle plough into crowds of tourists, killing two and wounding 40 other people before bursting into flames, authorities said at the time.

CCTV showed the eight accused -- two of them women -- sitting in a vast courtroom as prosecutors presented the evidence against them. An unidentified woman wearing a headscarf in the audience wiped away tears.

For the first time security camera video was broadcast of the attack, with CCTV showing a white SUV turning onto a pavement at high speed and barrelling into crowds of pedestrians, who scattered before it.

Tiananmen Square lies at the centre of Beijing and is bounded to the north by the former imperial complex known as the Forbidden City with a giant portrait of Communist China's founding father Mao Zedong hanging on its gate.

"If you do something within Xinjiang, most Chinese people won't know about that," Shan said. 

"But if you do something in a major city -- for example in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou -- that will be headline news. And that will be more effective to create terror among Han Chinese people."

Chinese authorities have long said that overseas-based terror groups including the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), influenced by Al-Qaeda, have inspired and even orchestrated violence in China from Central Asia, which borders Xinjiang.

Some experts question the influence of the TIP, a shadowy organisation that has released videos praising attacks in China but has yet explicitly to claim responsibility for them.

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