China's Internet minders are scrubbing social networks for references about a heavily populated county in the south of the country's volatile and remote region of Xinjiang, following reports of a major outbreak of unrest.
Some of the scrubbed postings from China's social media that can be seen on the website Freeweibo.com say Shache County in Xinjiang's southern Kashgar Prefecture has been hit by up to at least "four violent terrorist attacks."
While the reports of unrest have yet to be confirmed, sources tell VOA that the county has been locked down and that no one is being allowed to enter.
Some postings say telephone and Internet communications have also been cut, but calls to Shache, or Yarkant as it is also called, did go through.
The BBC quotes a regional official as saying 13 people have been killed, but the official did not give any other details. The victims, the report said, were all Han Chinese.
VOA was unable to reach officials for comment and one local police station in Shache promptly hung up when told that a reporter was inquiring about the situation there.
A woman at a business in Shache said she had heard about what had happened, but had no way of knowing what was true. She did not get into specifics, noting that phone lines are tapped in the region and that individuals are quickly detained for spreading rumors.
The woman added the tense climate in the restive region is having a big impact on business during what is a typically brisk season. Tuesday marks the end of Ramadan, a major holiday in the region where many ethnic Muslim Uighurs live.
State media mum
There has been no mention of what has happened in state media. But Xinhua posted photos Tuesday of rows of Muslims in prayer outside Id Kah Mosque, China's largest. The mosque is in Kasghar City, several hundred kilometers from where the unrest was reported to have taken place.
What the photos did not show were the scores of security officers also on hand near the mosque.
Violence linked to Xinjiang has been growing in the restive region and spreading to other parts of the country. Authorities blame Uighur separatists for the attacks and have warned religious extremists from the region are receiving training from overseas.
Critics say it is the government's heavy-handed control in the region, and religious and cultural restrictions that are fueling discontent among Xinjiang's Uighurs.
Religious Freedom report
In its annual report on religious freedom released Monday, the United States raised its concerns about China's policies in the remote region.
"Broadly targeting an entire religious or ethnic community in response to the actions of a few only increases the potential for violent extremism," said Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Nearly 200 people have been killed in ongoing violence in Xinjiang and other parts of the country during the past year or so. In response to the problem, the government has launched a year-long security campaign, boosting the presence of troops and police throughout the region.
Earlier this year, the government released a blue paper on terrorismand also published a list of 10 terrorist attacks that occurred in 2013. Seven of the attacks listed occurred in Xinjiang's southern Kashgar Prefecture, including an attack on a police station in Shache late last December.
Previously, the government has been quick to publicize information about attacks, including one on a market in the capital of Urumqi that killed at least 31 people in May. Why it is silent now, remains unclear.
In one posting that was taken down, a Weibo user by the name of Glass City asked why the government would be removing posts if such a horrible attack had occurred and individuals could just be trying to tell others what is going on. "What is the point of such an information blockade?" the user asked.
Chinese authorities could be clamping down to help stem the spread of more unrest.
In 2009, online discussion played a key role in the outbreak of massive riots between Han Chinese and Uighurs that hit the capital of Urumqi.
Authorities say about 200 people were killed in the violence, many of them Han Chinese.