BEIJING, China — More than 10 knife-wielding attackers slashed people at a train station in southwestern China late Saturday in what authorities called a terrorist attack, and police fatally shot five of the assailants, leaving 28 people dead and 113 injured, state media said.
The attackers, most of them dressed in black, stormed the Kunming Train Station in Yunnan Province and started attacking people in the late evening, witness Yang Haifei, told the official Xinhua News Agency in an interview from a hospital where he was being treated for chest and back wounds.
“I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone,” he told Xinhua, adding that people who were slower ended up severely injured. “They just fell on the ground,” Yang said.
Xinhua did not identify who might have been responsible for the attack, but said authorities considered it to be “an organized, premeditated violent terrorist attack.”
In an indication of how seriously authorities viewed the attack – one of China’s deadliest in recent years – the country’s top police official, Politburo member Meng Jianzhu, was on route to Kunming, the Communist Party-run People’s Daily reported.
The violence in Kunming came at a sensitive time as political leaders in Beijing prepared for Wednesday’s opening of the annual meeting of the nominal legislature where the government of President Xi Jinping will deliver its first one-year work report.
Xi called for “all-out efforts” to bring the culprits to justice.
A Xinhua reporter on the scene in Kunming said several suspects had been “controlled” while police continued their investigation of people at the train station. The reporter said firefighters and emergency medical personnel were at the station and rushing injured people to hospitals for treatment.
The authorities said five suspects were shot dead but that their identities had not yet been confirmed, Xinhua reported. Overall, 28 people were confirmed dead and 113 injured, it said.
State media outlets did not immediately cite a motive for the attack or say what group might be behind it, but they typically use the phrase “terrorist” for attacks blamed on separatists from the far western region of Xinjiang, home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule among parts of the Muslim Uighur (pronounced WEE’-gur) population.
Most attacks blamed on Uighur separatists take place in Xinjiang, but Saturday’s assault took place more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) to the southeast in Yunnan, which has not had a history of such unrest. However, a suicide car attack blamed on Uighur separatists that killed five people at Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate last November raised alarms that militants may be aiming to strike at targets throughout the country.
More than 60 victims of Saturday’s attack were taken to Kunming No. 1 People’s Hospital, where at least a dozen bodies also could be seen, according to Xinhua reporters at the hospital.
At a guard pavilion in front of the train station, three victims were crying. One of them, Yang Ziqing, told Xinhua that they were waiting for a train to Shanghai when a knife-wielding man suddenly came at them.
“My two town-fellows’ husbands have been rushed to hospital, but I can’t find my husband, and his phone went unanswered,” Yang sobbed.
Footage in China’s state broadcaster CCTV showed a heavy police presence near the station and plainclothes agents wrapping a long knife in a plastic bag as investigators collected evidence following the attacks.
Pictures on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, showed bodies covered in blood at the station.
The Security Management Bureau under the Ministry of Public Security called the incident a “severe violent crime” at its official Sina Weibo account.
“No matter what motives the murderers hold, the killing of innocent people is against kindness and justice. The police will crack down the crimes in accordance with the law without any tolerance. May the dead rest in peace,” it read.
The Kunming Railway Station, located in the southeastern area of the city, is one of the largest railway stations in southwest China.