China Power

A ‘Major’ Terrorist Haul

China says it cracked a major terrorist cell in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Really?

Earlier this week, Chinese authorities said they had uncovered a ‘major’ terrorist organization. The timing raised some eyebrows, as the announcement came just a couple of weeks before the anniversary of the riots last year in Ürümqi, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, during which almost 200 people were killed after Uyghur protests turned violent and protesters turned on ethnic Han.

The Chinese government said that the riots were pre-planned and instigated from abroad, with official fingers pointing to the exiled independence group the World Uyghur Congress (an allegation the WUC denied). The violence came on the back of long-running tensions between the Uyghur’s and majority Han migrants, with many Uyghur’s complaining that they are discriminated against in terms of employment prospects and when trying to secure bank loans.

So what had this ‘major’ organisation been putting together before being busted by Chinese police? If the image of the haul carried in the Global Times is anything to go by, probably not that much. The display put on by police is alleged to show homemade explosives, Molotov cocktails and knives. It’s not a convincing presentation for a supposedly significant breakthrough against a group blamed for an attack on border police in 2008, and the details released yesterday about the supposed terrorist cell don’t really clear very much up. For one thing, the two Xinjiang natives identified as the ring leaders apparently confessed ‘under interrogation’, which some might read as under extreme duress.

In addition, three members of the group are said to have attempted to flee the country but were apparently repatriated in December, although as the Global Times reports, Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping didn’t elaborate on where exactly they had been repatriated from.

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The article adds: ‘After police thwarted their plots, they fled to southern Guangdong and Yunnan provinces and made contact with ETIM leaders via e-mails, asking for roadmaps as they attempted to slip across the border.’

E-mails asking for roadmaps? However grand their ambitions might have been, it sounds like authorities oversold the breakthrough. And the timing looks suspiciously, as is noted by the WUC, as if it is aimed at highlighting ties between the independence cause and terrorism as international eyes turn to the region for the anniversary of the riots.

Still, Institute of Security and Strategic Studies director Li Wei is convinced by it all, reportedly stating categorically that the timing of the announcement had nothing to do with the anniversary and adding that: ‘The announcement indicates that China has established sound coordination with the international community on cracking down on terrorism. China's counter-terror concerns can be better understood by the world.’