Tag Archives: ETIM

Bangkok Bomb’s Possible Uighur Connection Presages New Crackdown

SUSPICION, IF SCANT hard evidence, is growing that there is a Chinese Uighur connection to the bombing of the Erawan shrine in the Thai capital Bangkok last month.

Thai police say that an alleged accomplice to the still-fugitive bomber had in his possession when captured near the Cambodian border a Chinese passport identifying him as Yusufu Mieraili, born in Xinjiang, home to China’s Turkic Muslim Uighur minority. Unnamed Chinese officials have declared to state media that Mieraili is a member of the Muslim separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

Thai authorities said at the weekend that they had issued a warrant for the arrest of the suspected organiser of the plot, whom they named as Abudusataer Abudureheman, a 27-year-old from Xinjiang. He is reported to have fled Thailand.

Muddying the picture is reports of Malaysian police arresting three people suspected of helping the bombers leave Thailand. They are two Malaysians and a Pakistani.

Authorities in Beijing are known to be watching the case closely. If, as it is being suggested, the bombing was retaliation for Thailand’s repatriation to China in July of 100 Uighurs, then it would provide Beijing with vindication — at last — for its long-standing claim that the ETIM is an international terrorist threat.

The group, which Washington, at Beijing’s urging, also put on its list of foreign terrorist organizations post-9/11 but now seems to have quietly dropped, wants an independent East Turkistan state stretching from Xinjiang somewhat indeterminately westwards. Most of the 8 million Uighurs live in Xinjiang, but the diaspora spreads to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and a lesser extent beyond.

East Turkistan has had two brief periods as an independent state. Mao’s revolution put an end to that. In 1955, it was declared to be China’s Xinjiang autonomous region.

Uighur militants have been fighting a low-key war with Beijing for years. More recently, particularly since late 2013, they have been able to extend attacks beyond Xinjiang, despite a hardening security crackdown on Uighurs in the region. The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which may be a splinter cell from ETIM or the ETIM in another incarnation, claimed responsibility for fatal attacks in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and notably Kunming, where 33 people, including four of eight knife-wielding attackers, died at the railway station. In Urumqi, a car bomb killed 42 people including all four attackers, all believed to be Uighurs.

However, the opaque and obscure ETIM, which was first heard of around 1997, has scarcely shown the capacity to operate across international borders with any consistency, if at all. One of its founders, who moved the organization in the late 1990s from Xinjiang to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, was reportedly killed shortly after in a U.S. drone strike against al-Qaeda bases; another languishes in a Chinese jail.

Its current leader is reputedly Abdullah Mansour, although little is known about him or the rest of the leadership. Mansour told the Reuters news agency last year that it was his Islamic duty to fight China. However, it seems more focused on the Middle East than the Middle Kingdom. A ‘Turkistan brigade’ of foreign fighters, including Uzbeks, is reportedly in Syria alongside al-Qaeda aligned forces, supported by militant Uighurs in Turkey.

It is nigh impossible to know the strength of the ETIM though it probably numbers in the low hundreds. Reuters news agency quoted Pakistan intelligence sources as putting the number at 400. More than 20 Uighurs captured by the U.S. in 2001 in Afghanistan fighting with the Taliban were held for several years in Guantanamo Bay. Once released, they were not repatriated to China by the United States. Pakistan, however, has been readier to hand over captured Uighurs to Beijing.

As in other parts of the western Marches, minorities have long complained of the Han colonisation of the regions in which they have traditionally lived, a suppression of their religions and cultures, and a worsening of their economic prospects compared to the newcomers. Shortly after the revolution, in 1953, three-quarters of Xinjiang’s inhabitants were Uighur. In the latest published census (2000) they accounted for barely two-fifths. Beijing says its sole intention is to promote economic development.

If indeed the Bangkok attack is Uighur-related, Beijing is likely grab with both hands the opportunity to jump on any signs of separatism in Xinjiang regardless of whether the ultimate instigators of the Bangkok bombing were the ETIM or sympathizers in Xinjiang or Turkey.

Separatism is a prime fear of Beijing’s and provokes well-armed counterterrorism measures whenever it is perceived. Stability in Xinjiang is a particular concern. The region is not only mineral- and energy-rich, but it is also a critical corridor through which the One Belt (New Silk Road) of the One Belt One Road project passes.

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Religious Extremism Said To Be Surging In Western China

More trouble on China’s western borders, this time inside them. Eight people have been killed in another clash between police and suspected Uighur separatists in Hotan, the prefecture containing the Xinjiang city of the same name close to the border with the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. In July, 14 people died in a firefight in the city after a group of 18 men took over a police station in the city, replacing the Chinese flag flown there with a pro-Jihadist banner. The militant East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack, and for two attacks in Kashgar the same month.

In this latest incident, police say they rescued two hostages whom they say “violent terrorists” had kidnapped in a remote mountainous southern area of the prefecture, killing seven of the kidnappers and wounding four others. One police officer died and another was wounded in the operation, which took place overnight Wednesday/Thursday. Earlier this month, another kidnapping and killing had been reported, of a Uighur man accused of drinking alcohol. State media links both incidents to what it calls “a surge in religious extremism” in the Muslim ethnic Uighur-dominated area that borders Kashmir. The “extremists are becoming bolder, and their attacks more brutal,” Xinhua says.

China is desirous of a return to the stability along its borders that it had grown accustomed to until recently where it touches Pakistan and Burma. While it can only exert diplomatic pressure on those two countries, enforcing social order within its own territory is within its own hands. Previous outbreaks of ethnic violence in resources rich Xinjiang, which is heavily Muslim and has more in common culturally with Central Asia than with much of China to its east, have been met with crackdowns, even as Beijing has poured billions of yuan of development investment into the region. However, much of the fruits of that has gone to newly arrived Han Chinese, who now constitute a majority, only deepening the divide with native Uighurs, as does Beijing’s campaign of cultural assimilation.

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More Unrest In Xinjiang As Bomber Hits Aksu

Though July’s anniversary of last year’s ethnic unrest in Urumqi passed with heavily enforced peacefulness, the tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang have not gone away. A bomb blast in Aksu, south west of Urumqi, has killed seven and injured 14, four seriously. According to a local official, a Uiqhur man drove a tricycle carrying the explosive device into a crowd at a busy street intersection.

In June, police said they had broken up a gang behind a number of attacks in Xinjiang over the past couple of years, including an attack in Kashgar in 2008 in which 16 Chinese border police were killed. The 10 men arrested were said to have been planning further attacks. A cache of explosives was seized.

Beijing has been fighting a low level civil war in Xinjing for decades against the  Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking group of Muslims whom they accuse of being ‘separatists’ led by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which is branded a terrorist organization though scapegoat terrorists would be a better description of an group that is a marginal threat at best. Most of the 8 million Uighurs in Xinjiang consider Beijing just uses ETIM as an excuse to crack down those who complain that their culture is being marginalized by Han immigration.

The response to last July’s riots that left nearly 200 dead was tighter security, mass arrests and billions of yuan poured into economic development in the province. The trouble is that the underlying causes of Uighur dissatisfaction can neither be repressed nor bought off.

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Kuqa Bombings Update

Xinhua has published details of the early Sunday morning attacks in Kuqa in Xinjiang, which the agency says left eight dead — seven of whom were attackers — in a dozen bombings.

The largest attack seems to have been a suicide truck bombing of the public security bureau. Two civilians, a security guard and two of the attackers were killed, Xinhua says. A third attacker was captured. Five more attackers died in a firefight in a nearby market. Xinhua says the captured attacker said 15 people were involved in the attacks, which implies seven escaped.

Though the bombs appear to have been crude homemade ones, it is still remarkable that such attacks should have been able to have been launched given the stepped up security in the region since the killing of 16 armed police at a border post last week, and the sweeping up of any suspected pockets of resistance in the months leading up to the Olympic games. But the militants who had previously threatened to attack buses, trains and planes during the two-weeks of the Games still don’t seem to have been able to extend their operations outside Xinjiang.

Wang Wei, vice president of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, called the attacks the work of “East Turkestan terrorists” the appellation applied to Uighur separatists. Wang said no government would tolerate such violence.

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16 Police Killed In ‘Suspected Terror Raid’

Eighty miles from the point where Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgystan and China meet is about as far as you can get from Beijing. But Kashi, or Kashgar as it is also known, in the west of Xinjiang, is where the terrorist threat to the Olympic games the authorities have repeatedly warned about has materialized.

Two attackers killed 16 police and wounded 16 more on Monday, according to Xinhua. They reportedly drove a truck at a group of 70 police out on a morning jog, lobbed grenades and homemade explosives and attacked with knives. The two attackers, said to be Uighurs in their 20s, have been detained.

They are suspected to have struck in the cause of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or the Turkestan Islam Party, an amorphous organization which claimed responsibility for bombings in Shanghai and Kunming earlier this year, and promised more attacks on the Games. We posted on that last month in “China Probes Beijing Olympics Terror Threat“.

Beijing has been fighting a low-key if heavy handed war against Muslim Uighur separatists for years and has claimed to have foiled in recent months several Olympics-related plots ETIM was said to be planning. The organization has been internationally recognized as a terrorist organization, if somewhat reluctantly by Western nations concerned about China’s treatment of its western minorities.

Kurexi Maihesuti, vice chairman of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, said in Beijing last week that Xinjiang police had uncovered five terrorism groups in the first half of this year, arresting 82 suspected Olympic saboteurs. How much capacity ETIM has to mount a spectacular at or close to an Olympic venue is a moot point, especially with the capital under an intense security lockdown.

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