At least 27 people have been killed and 162 injured after a group of knife-wielding men attacked people at one of China’s busiest railway stations.
Distressing photos circulating online showed bodies, pools of blood and abandoned luggage scattered across the terminal floor at Kunming Railway Station in Yunnan province.
Authorities described the incident at about 9pm local time (1pm GMT) as an ‘organised, premeditated, violent terrorist attack.’
Unconfirmed reports suggested five attackers were gunned down by police after a standoff.
Several suspects were contained by police and the station and surrounding roads were cordoned off.
Medics were still treating people and taking them to hospital hours after the attack, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
The death toll would make the attack one of the deadliest in recent Chinese history.
Xinhua did not provide more details and the attackers were not identified. Kunming city police did not have immediate information to release.
Resident Yang Haifei told Xinhua he was buying a ticket in the station when he saw a group of people rush into the station, many of them dressed in black, and start attacking people.
‘I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone,’ he told the news agency, adding some people ‘just fell on the ground’.Another crying victim outside the station told the news agency: ‘I can’t find my husband, and his phone went unanswered.’
Local TV station K6 said several of the attackers were shot by police and that victims were being transported to local hospitals.
The men were wearing uniforms when they stormed the railway station and gunshots were heard after police responded, another state news organisation said.
Domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu, one of China’s top politicians, was reportedly travelling tonight to the scene in downtown Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province which has more than six million citizens.
The station is one of the largest in south west China and opened in 1958, with up to 75,000 passengers a day passing through it.
Why the attackers struck or whether they were a member of a dissident group was not immediately known.
However, China has seen a number of mass stabbings and other attacks carried out by people bearing grudges against society.
In June last year at least 27 people were killed after gangs armed with knives attacked a police station and a local government building in a remote region of western China.
Mobs in the Xinjiang region, home to a large Muslim Uighur minority, were said to have set upon buildings in the township of Lukqun at around 6am, stabbing people and setting fire to police cars.
The attack comes at a particularly sensitive time as China gears up for the annual meeting of parliament, which opens in Beijing on Wednesday and is normally accompanied by a tightening of security across the country.
China has blamed similar incidents on Islamist extremists operating in the restive far western region of Xinjiang, though such attacks have generally been limited to Xinjiang itself.
China says its first major suicide attack, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October, involved militants from Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people.
There is unrest among many Uighurs at restrictions laid down by the Chinese authorities on their culture and religion.