Terrorists in Xinjiang ‘returned from IS’

By Catherine Wong Tsoi-lai Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-11 0:08:03

Region ‘paid enormous price’ for stability

A Chinese official on Tuesday revealed that authorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have broken up terror groups who had returned from fighting with the Islamic State (IS), a trend observers say poses a threat to the region's stability with the terrorists' increased combat capacity.

The comments made by Xinjiang's Party chief, Zhang Chunxian, at a meeting at the annual session of the National People's Congress was said to be the first time officials confirmed that Chinese citizens had joined the jihadist group. 

Authorities have broken up terror groups who were plotting violent attacks on Chinese soil after fighting in battles in Syria with the IS, Zhang said.

Observers said the rising influence of international terror groups would complicate internal conflicts, making terror activities more difficult to track down. 

"The spread of terrorism across different regions is a side effect of globalization, which contributes to the spread of extremist ideology. It is also hard for law enforcers to determine the reason why citizens travel," Turgunjan Tursun, a research fellow at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Wang Guoxiang, an anti-terrorism expert at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, said it is essential to strengthen the sense of national identity among all ethnic groups in the region to prevent them from being manipulated by terrorist forces.

"It is dangerous when the Uyghur people in Xinjiang only identify themselves by their ethnicity and religion, and ignore their nationality," Wang told the Global Times.

In July 2014, China's then Special Envoy to the Middle East Wu Sike said  that terrorists from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a terror group, have been receiving trainings in the Middle East and some of them "may have crossed into Iraq."

"The combat capability of these Chinese extremists will be strengthened after fighting or receiving training from overseas. They would be emboldened by the experience, and the destruction they could bring would be even stronger," said Wang.

He noted that the Chinese authorities' strict weapons control may help curb the threat.

Xinjiang has become the "main battleground" for the Chinese authorities' anti-terrorism crackdown following a spate of violent attacks in the region over the last few years.

China said ETIM is the major target when it sought international cooperation against terrorism last year, after the group claimed responsibility for attacks in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi on May 22 last year and Yunnan Province's capital city of Kunming on March 1, 2014.

IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 threatened to occupy part of Xinjiang and asked China's Muslims to pledge allegiance to him.

An Al Qaeda propaganda magazine has also described Xinjiang as a region that needs to be "recovered [into] the shade of the Islamic Caliphate," International Business Times reported.

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, said Tuesday that the situation in the region is stable on the whole, following the one-year crackdown on terrorism activities which started last May.

Che Jun, deputy secretary of the Communist Party of China Xinjiang regional committee, said about 95 percent of potential attacks in Xinjiang had been halted due to public tip-offs.

Zhang, Xinjiang's Party chief, said the region had paid an "enormous price" for stability as the death rate in the line of duty for the region's police officers was 5.4 times higher than for the rest of the country.

Of all the police officers who had died during service last year, 31 percent were from Xinjiang, he said. 

China is drafting a national security law, anti-terrorism law and cyber security law, which Wang believes will facilitate the crackdown on terrorism.

"The new anti-terrorism law will ensure the consistency in China's anti-terrorism policy, with clear definition on terrorism activities, and will also entitle the law enforcement bodies with legitimate power in [investigating and arresting the terrorists]," said Wang, who also participated in the drafting process.

Zakir pointed out on Tuesday the importance of bilingual education in the region as one of the measures needed to curb terrorism, as the lack of command of Putonghua among many in the rural areas in southern Xinjiang has contributed to their low employment rate and vulnerability to the influence of religious extremism.

Zakir's remarks came after a recent Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences report which argues that villages in underdeveloped corners, where people lack a good basic and religious education, are the most likely targets for extremist penetration. 

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