BEIJING, China -- Armed clashes between "thugs" carrying explosives and machetes and police left at 16 people dead in China's Xinjiang province late Sunday, including two officers, state media reported.
“Public Security Bureau police went to Sa-Yi-Ba-Ge village to arrest criminal suspects when thugs attacked with explosive devices and machetes suddenly, killing two policemen” according to Tianshan Net, an official website run by the Information Office of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Government.
“Police launched a decisive punishment, killing 14 thugs, and arresting two suspects,” they added. “The case is under further investigation.”
The Xinjiang province is home to the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that had previously blamed for attacks in the area, saying the group wants to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.
Describing Sunday's incident, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stopped short of directly blaming Islamist militants but said a "violent terror gang" attacked police with explosives.
"It once again showed the true face of violent terror. It should be condemned by all people who love peace and stability," she told a daily news briefing, according to Reuters. "This conspiracy does not enjoy popular support and is doomed to failure."
Sunday's attack follows a similar outburst of violence last month when at least nine civilians and two police officers were killed when a group of people armed with axes and knives attacked a police station near Kashgar last month, state media has said.
Many Uighurs oppose Chinese controls on their culture and religion but rights groups and exiles say Beijing exaggerates the threat.
In October members of the Uighur community were linked to an attack in Beijing's Tiananmen Square when a car plowed into pedestrians near the main entrance of the Forbidden City, killing five and injuring 40.
Usmen Hasan, his mother Kuwanhan Reyim, and his wife Gulkiz Gini who died during raid, hailed from Pi-shan village that is just over 200 miles away from Monday's attack.
Five other suspects arrested in connection with the attack were named as Husanjan Wuxur, Gulnar Tuhtiniyaz, Yusup Umarniyaz, Bujanat Abdukadir and Yusup Ahmat but officials also did not speculate on media reports that the suspects' names suggested they were ethnic Uighur.
Henry Austin reported from London. Reuters contributed to this report.