Chinese special forces used flamethrowers to smoke out terror suspects in an operation in the western part of the country, near the border with Kyrgyzstan. The paramilitary force in the autonomous Xinjiang region chased "dozens" of terrorists into a hiding place in a cliff side cave near Aksu.
Xinjiang is home to the Muslim Uighur community where hundreds have been killed in violence across the region over the past few years. Beijing blames the violence on separatists, but exiled Uighur groups say repressive religious policies and economic marginalisation of the community has increased tensions.
The operation took place in the Tianshan Mountains after an attack on civilians in a coal mine during September according to a report in the military's official newspaper. The Xinjiang official news outlet Ts.cn said that 16 people, including three police officers, were killed.
The coal mine attack, in the energy-rich region, claimed the lives of than 50 people with another 50 injured, Bejing believes the terrorists were foreign citizens. The People's Liberation Army Daily said that the rebels robbed police of their firearms until they were tracked down in a 10-hour search of five mountains.
Police used tear gas and stun guns to no avail as the armed men then brought out a flamethrower to overpower the rebel forces. The report says that ten knife-wielding suspects then came out attacking the special forces officers – they were all shot dead at the scene.The PLA Daily said special forces tracked the militants "like eagles discovering their prey".
Last week Chinese security forces killed 17 people, mostly Uighur Muslims, in the restive Xinjiang province for their alleged involvement in the recent coal mine attack. Radio Free Asia cited Xinjiang police as saying that three men said to be ringleaders and their family members were among the dead.
China is set to wage war with Islamic extremists abroad too after Islamic State (IS) extremists executed Beijing man Fan Jinghui who was captured in Syria. Also last week three Chinese nationals died during the Mali Radisson Blu siege which left 19 people dead.