Police killed two suspects and apprehended a third suspected of murdering an influential imam in Xinjiang province, China’s state news agency said Thursday. The killings come during an uptick in violence in China's vast far western region, home to a rebellious indigenous Uighur Muslim population.

Jume Tahir, the chief imam of the ancient city of Kashgar and deputy president of the government- approved Xinjiang Islamic Association, was stabbed to death on Wednesday, according to the Guardian. His assassination came two days after China accused Islamic terrorists of committing a gang attack with knives in Xinjiang and killed dozens of the alleged attackers. But Uighurs said police killed protesters demonstrating against China’s crackdown on observing the holy month of Ramadan.

Tahir, who was believed to be in his 70s, was the chief cleric of Id Kah, China’s largest mosque, which was built in 1442, according to Radio Free Asia.

“He was a patriotic religious person, and he lost his life in an assassination,” Kashgar resident Abdugheni Dolkun told Radio Free Asia. "Right now, we are busy making arrangements for his funeral."

Another Kashgar resident said he went to Tahir’s home to pay his last respects.

"I do not know who killed him or why he was killed; nobody dared to ask this question. His family members and relatives were weeping. They said he was assassinated," the resident said. "What I heard was that as he was returning from the mosque, he was stabbed to death."