Terror beyond borders
Xinhua-Global Times | 2013-11-28 18:48:01
By Xinhua-Global Times
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Armed police in Hami, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region attend an anti-terrorism drill in July this year. Photo: CFP

Armed police in Hami, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region attend an anti-terrorism drill in July this year. Photo: CFP

The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), a radical Islamist organization identified by the UN as a terrorist group, has recently released video footage on the Internet claiming to be responsible for last month's Tiananmen Square attack, where a car driven into a crowd killed five people and injured 40 others.

The radical Islamist group also warned of future attacks, including one at the Great Hall of the People, where the Communist Party of China holds many of its high-level meetings, according to the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute, a website which monitors jihadist forums.

The attack in Tiananmen Square, the iconic heart of State power, shows that terrorism can happen anywhere in the country.

"The Tiananmen attack shows that the violence and terrorist activities have crossed the borders of Xinjiang and terrorists are aiming to cause fear among the public," said Yang Shu, head of the Central Asian Studies Institute of Lanzhou University.

False claims?

According to an anti-terrorism official reached by the Global Times, police obtained the video footage days before it went viral on the Internet. He said that TIP is actually the terrorist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

"It is always the same organization, the same people, that from time to time releases terrorism footages on the Internet," said the official on condition of anonymity. "TIP, or ETIM, is part of the global terrorism force. It also sends its members to participate in the Syrian war per requests from international terrorist organizations."

But the Tiananmen claim is no proof that the group actually carried out the attack, as TIP has also claimed to be responsible for events they provably had nothing to do with.

Unlike other terrorist groups that emphasize real actions, TIP focuses on "mental influence." It often instigates followers to carry out terrorist attacks while the key members of the TIP hide themselves from the public's view.

In 2008 and 2009, the organization claimed to be responsible for an explosion in a Shanghai chemical factory. The final investigation report showed that TIP had nothing to do with the explosion, which was an industrial accident, according to the official.

"There were two reasons they pretended to be responsible for the explosions. One is to incite fear among civilians, which is the essential goal of a terrorist attack. Another is to earn 'credit' among international terrorist groups. TIP or ETIM needs to prove its capabilities to other terrorist groups to gain their approval," the official noted.

Fear at home

Chinese people largely think of terrorism as an overseas or far distant phenomenon. But experts say the Tiananmen attack comes as a warning.

"An obvious feature of modern terrorism is civilian participation," said Mei Jianmin, a counter-terrorism expert with the People's Public Security University of China.

Xinjiang authorities say the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism are increasing their penetration into the remote region, where more than half of the population belongs to traditionally Muslim ethnic minorities.

The Chinese government blames the TIP, together with other groups, for propagandizing religious extremism in Xinjiang and instigating ethnic hatred in order to seek independence. Authorities say that "overseas separatist forces" are targeting Hotan, Kashi and Aksu, where the majority of the population are Uyghurs.

Illegal religious activities are rampant in these areas, which have caused a turn to fundamentalism, an imam said on condition of anonymity.

More Uyghur women are choosing to wear the burqa or the chador, sparking a campaign by the government, under the name "Project Beauty," to encourage women to show their faces. And shopowners in some areas can't sell alcohol out of fear of being attacked by local fundamentalists, as Xinhua reporters have discovered in recent years.

According to the Chinese authorities, violent terrorist attacks have been increasing since 2009 and have become the biggest threat to the region. Some 190 terrorist attacks were recorded in Xinjiang in 2012, a significant increase from 2011, according to the regional public security department.

Most of the attackers were in their 20s or early 30s, and either acted on their own or in small groups. More than 95 percent of them have not graduated from middle school, according to the department.

Social woes

Analysts have called for an overall solution to tackle terrorist threats, saying that the establishment of a national security commission is a step forward but more still needs to be done.

The building of an anti-terrorism information network with sound intelligence gathering and judgment is key to preventing attacks, said Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Early discovery and warning are vital to handling terrorist threats, said Li, adding that an anti-terrorism law at State level will also help beef up efforts.

"Solving various kinds of social problems should also be included in the framework of anti-terrorism efforts," he said. "Social problems should never be used as excuses by terrorist groups to recruit members."

Being a remote region, Xinjiang lags behind other provinces and regions economically and faces challenges in capital, technology, skills, talent and management. Many Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang suffer from poverty and high unemployment.

Starting in March 2010, the central government initiated a "pairing assistance" program to support Xinjiang in building new infrastructures and promoting local industries. More than 4,000 officials and experts from 19 relatively-prosperous provinces and municipalities are contributing to the development of the vast western region.

Terrorism is not just a domestic issue. International support for "East Turkistan" separatists and the West's double standards toward them are challenges China has to face, said Li.

"We have to realize that anti-terrorism is a long-term and complicated cause and will not be resolved in a short period of time," he said. "It needs the overall efforts of the whole country, and even the whole world."

Liu Zhongkang, deputy head of the Xinjiang Regional Academy of Social Sciences, proposed that China strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation with the international community and reduce the space for the "three evil forces" to develop.

Liu also proposed research into the root causes of religious extremism in Xinjiang and a strategic plan to safeguard long-term stability and development in the region.

Xinhua - Global Times

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