URUMQI, May 22 (Xinhua) -- An attack on a market in Urumqi that left at least 31 dead and 94 injured on Thursday morning was an act of terror, according to authorities.
It is the worst event in five years in the far western region after riots on July 5, 2009 in the regional capital claimed 197 lives and injured more than 1,700.
Two vehicles, without license plates, broke through roadside fences and plowed into people at an open-air market in Gongyuanbei Street near Renmin Park at 7:50 a.m. and explosive devices were detonated, said a statement by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's publicity department.
Witnesses said explosives were thrown before the vehicles blew up.
A breakfast vendor told Xinhua he saw the two SUVs heading into the street at high speed and hitting people at random. "Four senior citizens were run over and killed in front of me," the vendor said.
A vegetable seller said the cars were weaving randomly. "The cars went past my stall, an old man near us was hit and I feared for my life," said the seller.
Many of the injured were elderly people who frequent the morning market.
At a local hospital, Turnisa Xadawut, 63, told how she lost three toes of her right foot in the explosion. Her five-months pregnant daughter, who accompanied her to the market, was burned on her face and feet, but luckily the baby appears to have been unharmed.
The Xinjiang Regional People's Hospital received 15 patients from the scene, two of whom were seriously injured. The youngest is 51 years old and the rest are all above 65, said Lei Wei, deputy head of the hospital's medical administration department.
"The injured include people from both Han and Uygur ethnic groups," said Liu Hongxia, head of the medical administration department of the regional traditional Chinese medicine hospital.
"Most of them are elderly people," said she in tears. "I feel sad seeing them suffer."
The cars came to a halt at the end of the street and the bombs were set off. An aquatic products shop near the first blast had all its windows broken.
The boss of the shop said the first car stopped because pedestrians had felled and vendors' carts blocked its way. "Two minutes later, the car exploded," the boss said.
A supermarket manager said that a lot of people had rushed to her store to hide. "People were screaming and crying. There was blood on some of them. It was horrible," she said.
A business owner in the market told Xinhua he heard a dozen big bangs.
Most shops along Gongyuanbei Street remain closed and few pedestrians were seen during the day. Police continue to search the area.
In response to the attack, Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to severely punish the terrorists and will spare no effort in maintaining stability.
He ordered police to step up patrols and control over possible targets to prevent ripple effects, to strike hard against violence and terrorists, and to safeguard social stability. The president also asked local authorities offer his condolences to the families of victims.
Premier Li Keqiang, meanwhile, called on authorities everywhere to step up safety measures and eliminate weak points in public security to protect people's lives and property.
A task force led by Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun has gone to Xinjiang to assist in the investigation. The regional government has launched an emergency response to treat the injured.
In a televised speech on Thursday afternoon, Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, condemned the attack, saying the killing exposed the anti-human, anti-society and anti-civilization nature of the terrorists.
He said the terrorists will never stop the development of Xinjiang and vowed to doggedly puruse the perpetrators.
More than 200 artistes from Xinjiang Muqam Art Troupe and Xinjiang Acrobatics Troupe organized an event to show their opposition to terrorism on Thursday afternoon. They come from 11 ethnic groups. Xinjiang Uygur Muqam is a mixture of song, dance, folk performance and classical music.
"The inhuman and cruel crimes of the terrorists can never be forgiven by any ethnic group," said Nusret Wajit, head of the troupe.
He called for the local people to take a clear stand and condemn the attack outright, and offer no room for the terrorists to survive.
Xinjiang is a remote region with more than half of its population ethnic minorities who hold Muslim beliefs.
Violent attacks in the name of "jihad" have been increasing since 2009 and are the biggest threat to the region. Some 190 terrorist attacks were recorded in Xinjiang in 2012, a significant increase from 2011, according to the regional public security department.
Recently, three people were killed and 79 injured in an attack on April 30 at a railway station in Urumqi. In March, assailants killed 29 civilians and injured another 143 at a railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming.