In the aftermath of the deadly knife attack in Kunming Railway Station, both local authorities and the central government said that evidence suggested Xinjiang separatists were behind the violence. To date, no organized group has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. However, the Turkestan Islamic Party (which Beijing conflates with its predecessor, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement) has expressed its approval of the attack in an online video.
In the video, TIP leader Abdullah Mansour both expressed support for the March 1 attack in Kuming and threatened more violence. “If the fighters of East Turkestan are now fighting with swords, knives, and mallets, our dear Allah will soon give us opportunities to fight the Chinese using automatic guns,” Reuters quoted Mansour as saying. Mansour also expressed his support for suicide tactics, saying the “blood of those who are killing themselves is not being spilled for nothing, for their blood will bring tens of more to carry out jihad.” Interestingly, though, Mansour did not directly claim responsibility for the Kunming incident, leaving questions as to who exactly was involved in planning and carrying out the bloody attack. According to state media, Chinese police captured three suspects after the attack, but no further information has been released.
In response to Mansour’s latest video, China’s Foreign Ministry quickly condemned the militant organization. Spokesman Hong Lei called the video “a full exposure of [ETIM’s] terrorist nature.” Hong added, “To crack down on the ETIM is an important part of the international efforts against terrorism.”
The release of the online video is especially interesting as it hints at new tactics for the TIP. The group had previously kept a low profile, with little public promotion of its goals or methods. However, this may be changing. The TIP publicly claimed responsibility for the October 2013 car crash in Tiananmen Square, which killed five and injured 40. Earlier this month, Reuters conducted a rare telephone interview with Mansour, during which the TIP leader also threatened to conduct more attacks. “China is not only our enemy, but it is the enemy of all Muslims … We have a message to China that East Turkestan people and other Muslims have woken up. They cannot suppress us and Islam any more. Muslims will take revenge,” Mansour said. TIP, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, has also been active lately in posting videos demonstrating how to prepare explosives and handle weapons.
Even before the release of the TIP video, Beijing was already serious about fighting the terrorist threat posed by extremist groups. In the wake of the Kunming attack, government leaders (including Xi Jinping) have called for China to crack down on terrorist activities, suggesting that anti-terror security measures will likely be tightened. The video from Mansour praising the violence in Kunming and promising more attacks will only increase Beijing’s determination to prevent any further incidents. During the recent National People’s Congress, Xinjiang’s Party Secretary also singled out online videos as an area of special concern for China. He blamed “90 percent of terrorism in Xinjiang” on people bypassing China’s online censorship and gaining access to terrorist videos and materials. As the TIP steps up its media campaign, China will respond accordingly.
Mansour, according to Reuters, is currently based in Pakistan, in the mountainous region near the Afghanistan border. Now that the TIP seems to be beginning a more public campaign to spread its message, Beijing will likely step up the pressure on Islamabad to play a more active role in rooting out terrorist groups operating within its borders. Tensions over Pakistan’s security situation could have an important impact on China-Pakistan relations, especially on the fate of the recently announced China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Such concerns will also be foremost on Beijing’s mind as leaders try to formulate a policy for engaging with Afghanistan after NATO troops withdraw.