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Al-Qaida threatens to target Chinese over Muslim deaths in Urumqi
07-14-2009, 08:31 PM,
Al-Qaida threatens to target Chinese over Muslim deaths in Urumqi
Quote:Al-Qaida's north African wing has threatened to target Chinese workers and projects in the region in retaliation for Muslim deaths in Urumqi last week.

It is the first time Osama bin Laden's terrorist network has directly targeted Chinese interests, according to experts at a London-based risk analysis firm.

Stirling Assynt's report says that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – based in Algeria – has issued a call for vengeance, basing its statement on information from people who have seen the instruction.

But the assessment does not suggest there is any direct link between Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province and al-Qaida. It also suggests it is unlikely that al-Qaida's central leadership has decided to stage attacks within China.

Justin Crump, head of terrorism and country risk at Stirling Assynt, said: "For al-Qaida central, it is really not in their interests or part of their plan at all. I think you will see action where it is easy by al-Qaida franchises, but it won't be al-Qaida policy.

"Strategically it would be highly counter-productive for them if you look at the fact their main assets are in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

He suggested that AQIM's decision was partly "opportunistic", reflecting the ease with which they could target Chinese nationals and anger in some Muslim communities worldwide. Indonesia saw anti-Chinese protests yesterday.

At least 184 people were killed and 1,680 injured in the inter-ethnic violence in Urumqi, which first broke out on 5 July, officials say. According to government figures 137 were Han Chinese, 46 Uighurs and one a Hui man. But Uighurs have alleged that far more of them died – either in a crackdown by security forces or at the hands of Han Chinese during revenge attacks for vicious assaults by Uighurs.

Muslim Uighurs make up almost half the 21-million population of China's vast north-western region of Xinjiang. Many have long chafed at strict rules restricting their religion, which include banning under-18s from mosques, as well as Han migration and policies which they believe favour Han Chinese.

"Although AQIM appear to be the first arm of al-Qaida to officially state they will target Chinese interests, others are likely to follow," adds the note.

"The general situation (and perceived plight) of China's Muslims has resonated amongst the global jihadist community. There is an increasing amount of chatter ... among jihadists who claim they want to see action against China. Some of these individuals have been actively seeking information on China's interests in the Muslim world, which they could use for targeting purposes."

Stirling Assynt estimates that hundreds of thousands of Chinese work in the Middle East and north Africa, including 50,000 in Algeria alone.

The firm's report points out that AQIM attacked an Algerian security convoy protecting Chinese engineers on a motorway project three weeks ago, killing 24 paramilitary police. The workers themselves were not targeted or injured, but the note adds: "Future attacks of this kind are likely to target security forces and Chinese engineers alike."

It also suggested that other al-Qaida groups in the Arabian peninsula "could well target Chinese projects in Yemen".

Despite the huge security presence in Urumqi, violence broke out again yesterday. Officials said police shot dead two Uighur men armed with knives and sticks and injured a third as the trio attacked another Uighur man.

But a Han man in the area told the Associated Press that he saw three Uighurs with knives come out of a mosque and attack paramilitary police.

In a separate development, more than 100 Chinese writers and intellectuals have signed a letter calling for the release of an outspoken Uighur economist who disappeared from his Beijing home last week and is believed to be detained.

"Professor Ilham Tohti is an Uighur intellectual who devoted himself to friendship between ethnic groups and eradicating conflicts between them. He should not be taken as a criminal," said the letter, posted online yesterday.

Xinjiang's governor accused Tohti's website of helping "to orchestrate the incitement" of last week's riot – but the letter's authors said it was an important site for dialogue between Han Chinese and Uighurs.
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