Take fight to ETIM before threat grows

Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-22 18:58:01

After the car crash incident in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 28, the Turkestan Islamic Party, backbone of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) released in Uyghur an audio speech from its leader, Abdullah Mansour, calling the incident a "jihadi operation" and its executors "mujahideen." The speech came in a video produced by the group's Islam Awazi (Voice of Islam) Media Center, which was created by the Al Qaeda media committee.

After the suicide attack in Beijing, no one can deny that ETIM is a terrorist group. ETIM is a hybrid threat group that mounts both terrorist and guerrilla attacks.

Today, ETIM presents a threat not only to China but also to other nations. ETIM is collaborating with the Al Qaeda family of threat groups. Its collaborators include the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, Islamic Jihad Union, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus and since recently the Al-Nusra Front in Syria.

Although it is reported that ETIM is a medium-sized threat group of less than 100 fighters, it has attacked not only the Chinese government and society, but also the security forces of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.

However, for many years Uyghur threat groups were not regarded by most Western academics as terrorist groups. Western scholars tend to only identify as terrorists the threat groups that attack Western nations and their interests. In fact, some of the criticism by the West of China's handling of the Xinjiang issue is politically motivated.

I have met Uyghurs in all the key positions of government in Xinjiang and have also spoken with ordinary citizens. They do not support Uyghur separatism, making ETIM and all the other Uyghur separatist groups not only illegal, but also devoid of a broad public basis.

After the US-led coalition withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, the threat to China from terrorism will grow. Osama bin Laden's death has not diminished the global threat.

An emboldened ETIM is planning to expand its capabilities. The Uyghurs studying in Turkey recruited by ETIM traveling to Syria to fight under Al-Nusra demonstrates that ETIM is acquiring greater capabilities.

The Uyghur veterans of Syria will be motivated, experienced and skilled in organizing and conducting more suicide attacks against China.

Although the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee agreed to establish China's State Security Committee, ETIM is still on the rise.

In addition, the propaganda materials released by ETIM, such as videos and photos, have demonstrated its growing collaboration with other terrorist groups.

From Chechnya to Turkey and Xinjiang of China, ETIM is linking the terrorist groups along the new Silk Road and beyond. Future attacks by ETIM may involve non-Uyghur Muslims too.

China has faced many challenges from the West. Since the human rights issue is a political weapon used by the West, China will constantly be accused of so-called human rights violations.

Although the United Nations and several countries, such as the US, have already listed ETIM as a terrorist group, prejudice will continue to exist.

China should realize that as an emerging country, it should not be distracted by its detractors and should continue to socially and economically develop Xinjiang. While strengthening the human rights regime, China should build a strategic communications capability.

The Chinese government should protect its stability and maintain security by building more effective domestic counter-terrorism and counter-extremism capabilities.

China must not underestimate the ETIM threat from ideological extremism and its byproduct terrorism. The Chinese government must train and develop a dedicated counter-terrorism intelligence, analysis and operational capability which it gravely lacks to fight the current and emerging threat.

Besides, while helping Uyghurs to develop economically and socially, China should bring them into a more integrated community. Uyghur officials in Xinjiang should engage Muslim leaders and build a capability to counter ETIM propaganda.

China should also recruit more Uyghurs into its security forces and intelligence services. At the same time, China should consider expanding its counter-terrorism efforts beyond its borders.

It could hunt ETIM and other separatist leaders living overseas and neutralize the long-term ETIM threat.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Liu Zhun based on a written interview with Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. liuzhun@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus