China has increased security in many parts of its restive Xinjiang province in recent years.

Story highlights

Gang wielding knives attacked civilians, a police station, government offices in Xinjiang

Authorities called it an "organized and premeditated" terror attack

The province has seen longstanding tensions between Uyghur Muslims and Han population

Some Uyghurs have complained of harsh treatment from Chinese security forces

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Twelve people have been sentenced to death for organizing attacks that left dozens of people dead in the restive western Chinese province of Xinjiang earlier this year.

The incident – described by authorities as an “organized and premeditated” terror attack – occurred in the region’s Shache County on July 28, when a gang wielding knives and axes attacked civilians, a police station, government offices and smashed vehicles.

Police returned fire and shot dozens of the attackers, state media reported at the time.

State media has reported a wave of violent attacks in Xinjiang in recent months.

Twenty-nine people were killed and 130 injured when men armed with long knives stormed a train station in Kunming in March. The next month, an attack on a train station in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, left three dead, including the attackers, and an attack on an Urumqi market in May killed at least 39 people.

Ethnic tensions

The province has seen longstanding tensions between its Uyghur Muslim population, a Turkic people, and the local Han population – China’s biggest ethnic group.

Some Uyghurs have expressed resentment toward China’s Han in recent years over what they say is harsh treatment from Chinese security forces and Han people taking the lion’s share of economic opportunities in Xinjiang – a charge China’s central government denies.

Monday’s hearing at the court in Kashgar, western Xinjiang, also saw 15 others handed the death penalty, but suspended for two years, according to the official news portal of the government of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Nine people were jailed for life, while another 20 defendants got four to 20 years behind bars. An additional two defendants were released on probation.

Q&A: Xinjiang and tensions in China’s restive far west

CNN’s Dayu Zhang contributed to this report.