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Nearly 100 dead -- mostly 'terrorists' -- in attack, China says

By Joe Sterling and Josh Levs, CNN
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Anti-terrorism police attend an exercise in China's Xinjiang region in 2013.
Anti-terrorism police attend an exercise in China's Xinjiang region in 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 37 civilians and 59 "terrorists" died in the attack, China says
  • The strike was "organized and premeditated," China says
  • Numerous terrorist attacks have taken place in the Xinjiang region
  • Attacks are blamed on Muslim separatist group

(CNN) -- Nearly 100 people, most of them "terrorists," were killed in an attack last week in China, state media reported Sunday.

A total of 37 civilians were killed, and police "gunned down 59 terrorists," Xinhua reported, bringing the death toll to 96.

A gang wielding knives and axes attacked civilians, a police station and government offices and smashed vehicles in a restive region, according to Xinhua. Cars were vandalized, and some were set ablaze.

The "organized and premeditated" attack took place Monday in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. There have been numerous attacks in the region, where tensions are simmering between Uyghur Muslims, a Turkic people, and Chinese Han people.

Reports: 31 dead in western China attacks
Tensions in western China

A Muslim separatist group founded by militant Uyghurs has been blamed for terrorism in the region, the Council on Foreign Relations explains.

Xinhua said the "mastermind" behind the attack Monday "had close connections with the terrorist organization," known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

In May, China launched a terrorism crackdown after a series of explosions in an open-air market killed dozens in Xinjiang. Many of the victims were elderly people, Xinhua reported.

"This is a despicable and outrageous act of violence against innocent civilians, and the United States resolutely opposes all forms of terrorism," White House spokesman Jay Carney said at the time

Some Uyghurs have expressed resentment toward China's Han majority in recent years over what they say is harsh treatment from Chinese security forces and Han people taking the lion's share of economic opportunities in Xinjiang.

Amnesty International said Uyghurs face widespread discrimination, including in employment, housing and educational opportunities, as well as curtailed religious freedom and political marginalization.

READ: China announces probe into former domestic security czar

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