Monday, December 29, 2008

Kunming bus bomber identified, police say

A man has admitted to being the perpetrator of a number of bomb blasts that struck in the heart of Kunming, a city in south-west China, earlier this year. The man, named by officials as Li Yan [李彦], was caught after the bomb he was carrying detonated at the Salvadors coffee shop in Kunming on 24th December. However details are only just beginning to emerge after earlier reports suggested the blast was caused by a gas explosion.

Kunming was rocked by two bus explosions on the 21st July this year in the lead up to the Beijing Olympic games [tvnewswatch]. Two were killed in the attack and were named later as Wang Dezhi (王德芝) a 30-year-old woman from the city of Mouding in Yunnan's Chuxiong prefecture and Chen Shifei (陈仕飞), a 26-year-old man from the town of Dayan in Yunnan's Lijiang prefecture. At least another 14 were injured in the bus bombs and there was much speculation as to who carried out the attacks. A little known group called the Turkestan Islamic Party claimed responsibility for the blasts calling it a part of its “Blessed Jihad in Yunnan” [tvnewswatch]. However, officials dismissed any terrorist links to the explosions, saying that the attacks were likely to have been carried out by a disgruntled citizen [Wikipedia - Kunming bus bombings].

According to Chinese police, DNA found at the bus bombing sites and the Salvador cafe linked the incidents. They also claim that Li had “confessed” his involvement to the bombings on his death bed after being severely injured in the explosion that swept through the Kunming cafe.

The blast struck the cafe at 10:30 in the morning of the 24th December despite much damage to the inside of the cafe customers were uninjured according to one of the owners Colin Flahive. He told Go Kunming that three Koreans and one Chinese man who were close to the bomb were miraculously uninjured by the blast. But in the rubble was the bomb suspect who apparently made his own way to hospital where he was subsequently interrogated by police.

Police later went to Li's residence in Xuanwei, where they reportedly discovered 1.1 Kg of ammonium nitrate and bomb casing materials that matched the samples taken from the Salvador's bomb. The device had apparently detonated prematurely, severely wounding the suspect. Li died two hours later at Honghui Hospital. Police say they also found a homemade gun with 21 rounds of ammunition at the man's home and that forensic tests showed the explosives were the same as those used in the Kunming bus explosions in July.

According to authorities, Li had been imprisoned for 9 years in 2001 for his involvement in robbery and assault. He served five years in a prison in Yiliang county, where he spent much of his time involved in electrical repairs, an experience which is said to have aided his alleged bomb-making skills.

The bombing at the Salvador, in 76 Wen Lin Jie, Wen Hua Xiang, Kunming, has shocked many westerners who frequent the coffee shop. Situated near the Green Lake the cafe serves everything from burgers and sandwiches to herbal teas and coffee. Its Kunming branch open in 2004 and has been a magnet for Chinese and westerners alike.

The solving of the Kunming bombing attacks may lift concerns among residents of Yunnan’s capital, however there will still be those who remain sceptical as to whether Li was the bomber behind the blasts. His apparent guilt does raise some concerns as how he managed to construct explosive devices so easily. It is also worrisome that some individuals take such drastic action to air their grievances. Earlier this year a man stormed a police station in Shanghai killing several policemen in an apparent grievance over a wrongful arrest. He was arrested and later executed. The incidents highlight a growing discontent in China amongst some disenfranchised groups and individuals. With rising unemployment and an ever widening rich poor divide, actions such as these may well repeat themselves [New York Times / Xinhua / Huanqiu]

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