An Islamist militant group has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks in China’s restive Xinjiang region this summer, and warned of further strikes to come.
According to the US-based SITE intelligence group, Sheikh Abdul Shakoor Damla, leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party, promised in a video statement to avenge ‘Chinese occupation’ of the region.
‘All the policies practised by the Chinese communist government against the Muslims in East Turkestan aim at completely maiming the identity of the Muslims and their strong traditions,’ he is quoted by Reuters as saying. ‘The jihadi operations in the provinces of Hotan and Kashgar are merely acts of revenge against the atheist communists, who fought the religion of Allah the Almighty publicly and openly.’
The video follows Chinese claims in July that militant Islamists who had been trained in Pakistan plotted the Hotan and Kashgar attacks, which claimed the lives of least 40 people and injured dozens more. This suggestion, though, has been disputed by ethnic Uighur exile groups who have said instead that the violence resulted from China’s repression of the region's largely Muslim native population.
Last month, China claimed to have prevented attempted attacks by Uighur militants in Xinjiang as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was in the country for a trade expo. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, China tightened security in the area ahead of the China-Eurasia Expo, 'deploying armed SWAT teams, marching baton-wielding riot police through the old part of the city and stepping up checks on flights bound for the region.’
The region has been of particular concern for Chinese officials since riots erupted in the region in July 2009. Almost 200 people were killed, and about 1700 injured, in a series of clashes between ethnic Uighurs and Han ethnic Chinese.
The latest violence started on July 18 in Hotan when Chinese officials said that police had killed 14 people involved in a raid on the police station in the area. Police said that the rioters used knives and explosives to take hostages, killing two security guards in the process. However, an Uighur exile group disputed this version of events, saying instead that police had in fact fired into a crowd of peaceful protesters.
The unrest continued on July 30 in Kashgar, when officials said two men hijacked a truck, killed the driver and rammed the truck into a crowd. They are then said to have fled the truck and to have started slashing at random passers-by with knives, killing eight people in the process. The next day, explosions were reported at a restaurant, where a group of men are alleged to have then run into the street where they killed four people.
The new video shows footage of a man identified as Memeti Tiliwaldi at what is alleged to be a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan or Pakistan. According to the New York Times, ‘Chinese police reported in early August that they had shot and killed Tiliwaldi, 29, after he was identified as one of those who staged’ the attacks in Kashgar on July 30 and 31.
However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry for its part has refused to be drawn on the authenticity of the video. In response to a question about the 10-minute clip, Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said:
‘I haven’t seen the video you mentioned. Our principled position is that at present, a small handful of terrorist forces…out of motives of splitting China, are conducting rampant violent terrorist activities within China's border (to) seriously undermine China's national unity, and regional peace and stability.’