Early reports put the death toll at 31, but that number may have risen to 43. The attack took place around 8 AM local time on Thursday, shortly after senior citizens were finishing their morning exercises and shopping or having breakfast near the marketplace.
"We were about to pay for vegetables, when all of a sudden this car came from behind and knocked us over and then it exploded," said 50-year-old Zhou Ping, interviewed at an Urumqi hospital Thursday night. "When I got up, I was covered in vegetables and dirt and blood."
"Two minutes later, another car came that went farther down the road and exploded too, like they wanted to commit suicide. I was in complete shock," said Zhou. She escaped serious injury but her sister was badly wounded with gashes to the eyes, legs and back.
Wu Gang, 54, an ambulance driver who lives in the neighborhood and was off-duty on Thursday, said there were multiple explosions.
"We heard these bangs, one after another. It sounded like fireworks or maybe construction, but then we heard the sirens and knew it was an attack," said Wu.
Witnesses said the attackers had to have known the city fairly well to strike when the area around the market was as crowded as it was and that one of the vehicles was reportedly flying a flag bearing Uighur script.
The attacks come about a month after the Urumqi train station was attacked by bomb and knife-wielding assailants, killing three in an attack that coincided with a visit to the region by Chinese president Xi Jinpeng.
Authorities are blaming the uptick in violence on Islamic separatist groups that want to weaken Beijing's grip on the traditionally Turkic region of Xinjiang. Shortly after the attack, the Turkestan Islamic Party reportedly sent out an unverified claim of responsibility.
In March, 33 people were killed when machete-wielding assailants hacked passengers and vendors in the south-western Chinese city of Kunming. China's state-run media has tight control over the details of sensitive information such as the terror attacks in both Kunming and Urumqi. However, outside observers believe the Uighurs and separatist Turkestan Islamic Party have shifted tactics from hit and run attacks on Chinese authorities to targeting civilians in both Xinjiang and further afield.