Malcolm Moore at The Telegraph has picked up on the potential Jihadist narrative behind the Kunming attack, as I covered in an earlier Interpreter post (Three Things Missing From Coverage of the Kunming Massacre). Moore tracks the rise of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and points out that the group claimed responsibility for the 2008 Kunming bus bombings.
Professor Dru Gladney, a respected authority on Muslim China, is interviewed by Moore. He calls the Kunming attack 'anomalous' in the context of Xinjiang extremism. For one, he says, the incident felt more like a radical Islamic attack, along the lines of the Mumbai or Chechen strikes.
Gladney says that the attackers' black dress is unusual for Uyghur separatists, whose symbolic colour of choice is light blue. And their knives (pictured; courtesy of @ChuBailiang) were 'not Xinjiang knives, which tend to be ornate', he adds.
Gladney says the flag the attackers carried was black – the wrong color again for Uyghur extremists – and that the writing on it is poorly crafted Arabic, not Uyghur. He doesn't mention what the flag actually is: the Black Standard, which features the Shahada, or Muslim profession of faith, written in white on a black background. The Black Standard has been used as a symbol of Jihad by Islamic extremist organisations including al Qaida, al Shabaab and the Islamic State of Iraq.
Questions remain about the veracity of the information so far released by the Chinese Government. But it would be odd for the authorities to fabricate evidence that undermines their assertion that the attackers were run-of-the-mill Uyghur separatists.
The attack is 'more likely the influence of South East Asian groups', Gladney concludes. Jacob Zenn, a Jamestown analyst, disagrees, pointing out that the presence of female attackers is reminiscent of the Caucasus. Zenn notes women have not featured in Uyghur-orchestrated attacks before.
Whoever is right, it appears there was a stronger radical, international flavour to the Kunming attack than was the case in other recent incidents.
One more plot twist in all this: the South China Morning Post (SCMP) claims Qin Guangrong, the Communist Party chief of Yunnan Province, said the attackers had tried to leave the country. SCMP quoted from a China Radio International report that has since been deleted. 'They couldn't get out at Yunnan (to Vietnam) so tried to get out in other places, but they also couldn't leave Guangdong, so once gain they returned to Yunnan', Qin said.
Qin's remarks match an earlier report from Radio Free Asia which suggests the attackers were 'disgruntled ethnic minority Uyghur asylum seekers.' It's a big step, though, from being 'disgruntled' to stabbing 29 people to death.