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China says pro-government imam murdered in NW

BEIJING (AP) — China said Thursday that a leading pro-government Muslim cleric in the volatile northwestern territory of Xinjiang was murdered, and police killed two suspects and captured another. The state media report late Thursday was the first official confirmation of the murder of Jume Tahir at dawn Wednesday, the latest in a string of increasingly violent and brazen acts targeting government supporters and institutions. Tahir had led the Id Kah mosque in the city of Kashgar and was a strong supporter of government policy on Islam that critics say imposes harsh restrictions on Muslims. Violence has sharply increased over recent months in Xinjiang, where radicals among the native Turkic Muslim Uighur minority have pursued a violent campaign to overthrow Chinese rule. On Monday, the government said militants armed with knives and axes killed or injured dozens of people in Shache county near Kashgar. Official reports said police killed dozens of the assailants, who reportedly first attacked police and government offices before turning on civilians. More details haven't been released and the precise death toll remains unknown, although China called the incident a "premeditated terror attack." If dozens were indeed killed, it would be the bloodiest single instance of violence since ethnic riots in Urumqi in 2009 left nearly 200 dead, according to the government. Neither Tahir's murder nor Monday's violence could be independently verified. Officials reached by phone refused to comment and shopkeepers, hotel clerks and others in the city said they couldn't discuss the matter for fear of trouble with the authorities. The government routinely prevents foreign journalists from working freely in Xinjiang. Tahir's high-profile support for the government — the report referred to him as a "patriotic religious personage" — and his criticism of violence in Xinjiang likely made him a target of the militants, whom the government says have ties to overseas Islamic terror groups. The official reports identified the three suspects as Tuergong Tuerxun, Maimaiti Jiangremutila, and Nuermaimaiti Abidilimiti, the Chinese renderings of their Uighur names. They said after the suspects killed Tahir they were chased down by police at noon on Wednesday and attempted to resist arrest with knives and axes. The reports didn't say which of the three were killed. While some of the recent violent attacks have shown an increased level of sophistication and planning, most have relied on crude weaponry such as swords, bombs and homemade explosives.

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