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Islamic terror haunts China

Islamic terror haunts China

Author: B Raman
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 6, 2008

Beijing's apprehensions of terrorist strikes during the Olympic Games appear to be coming true. Monday's slaughter of 16 Chinese border guards by two terrorists could be a precursor to further attacks. The killers are presumed to be Uighur Islamists

Sixteen border police guards of China's Ministry of Public Security were killed and 16 others injured when two unidentified terrorists, who came in a truck, jumped out of it outside their barracks compound near Kashgar (Chinese name Kashi) in the Xinjiang province at 8 am on Monday, and hurled grenades at police guards doing their morning physical exercise. Next, they attacked some of the injured policemen with knives before they were over-powered and captured. According to one report, the terrorists tried to slit the throats of the injured police guards. It was not an attack of suicide terrorism. The terrorists did not try to kill themselves before they were overpowered and arrested.

The Kashgar area has been in a state of ferment since July 9, 2008, when the Chinese authorities announced the public execution of two Uighurs. Their names (Chinese version, not their original ethnic names) were given out as Muheteer Setiwalidi and Abdulwaili Yiming after they had been convicted by a Kashgar court on November 9, 2007, on charges of separatist activities, attending a terrorist training camp and manufacturing explosives.

According to the announcement, the court had awarded three other Uighurs suspended death sentences and sentenced 12 other Uighurs to various terms of imprisonment. All of them were accused of being members of the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (IMET). They were reported to have joined IMET in August 2005 and were arrested by the police in January 2007.

The public announcement of the sentences awarded to the 17 Uighurs came a day after the police of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, forcibly entered a flat to arrest 15 Uighurs, who were also projected as members of IMET. Five of them were killed by the police when they allegedly resisted the arrest. The Chinese also ordered the closure of 40 mosques in Xinjiang on the ground that they had been started illegally.

The Chinese authorities have not yet revealed the identities of the two terrorists who carried out the attack on August 4. They are presumed to be Uighurs, but normally the Uighurs does not follow the modus operandi of slitting the throats of their victims. This is the typical of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union, another Uzbek organisation, and Pakistani terrorist organisations as well as of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The attacked border post was near the border with Tajikistan. The two terrorists are suspected to have infiltrated into the area from Tajikistan. The IMET, which is the main organisation of the anti-Beijing Uighurs, the IMU, the IJU and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami of Pakistan have operated in the bordering areas of Tajikistan in the past. Before 9/11, the HUJI used to have a training camp in Tajikistan for training recruits from Xinjiang and the Central Asian Republics.

In January 2008, the Ministry of Public Security had claimed to have neutralised an Uighur sleeper cell in Urumqi. This was followed, on March 7, 2008, by an aborted attempt by three Uighurs -- one of them a woman -- to blow up a civil aviation plane flying from Urumqi to Beijing with the help of gasoline concealed inside a soft drink can, which had been smuggled into the plane. The attempt was thwarted by alert security guards on board the plane. The fact that the airport security at Urumchi allowed the can to be carried -- when all over the world there is a ban on such cans and bottles being carried -- spoke poorly of the physical security at some Chinese airports.

The News of Pakistan reported on March 21, 2008, that two of the suspects arrested -- a woman and a man -- were travelling with Pakistani passports. The woman was described as an Uighur living in Pakistan and trained in a Pakistani jihadi camp and the man as a Central Asian (Uzbek?). The third person, who escaped but was subsequently arrested, was described as a Pakistani who had masterminded the plot. The meagre facts given out by the Chinese authorities about the thwarted plot indicated deficiencies in the physical security set-up in China.

There was a demonstration against the Chinese authorities at Khotan in the Xinjiang province on March 23, 2008. About 1,000 Uighurs, including many women, participated in the demonstration. The protest was triggered by two events. First, the alleged death in the custody of Mutallip Hajim, a wealthy jade trader and popular philanthropist, who had been arrested on the charge of belonging to the sleeper cell discovered in January 2008. Second, the anger of local women over the ban on head scarves. Many of the Uighur women, who participated in the demonstration, defiantly covered their heads with scarves.

According to a statement from the Khotan Government in the Xinjiang region, "extremist forces" tried to incite an uprising in a local market place on March 23. "A small number of elements... tried to incite splittism, create disturbances in the market place and even trick the masses into an uprising," an official statement issued by the authorities said. It added: "Our police immediately intervened to prevent this and are dealing with it in accordance with the law." The local authorities undertook house-to-house searches in the area looking for extremist suspects. Over 100 Uighur Muslims were detained for interrogation.

The fact that the two terrorists could mount the attack on August 4 despite the round-up of over a hundred suspected Uighur militants by the Chinese Police since the beginning of this year underlines the continuing weaknesses of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, which is responsible for internal intelligence. The Ministry was taken by surprise in Tibet in March when there was a revolt by Tibetan monks and youth. Now, it has been taken by surprise by the Uighur terrorist strike. This should be a matter of concern to the organisers of the Olympic Games.

- The writer, a counter-terrorism specialist, was a senior official of R&AW.


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