For China, Far West Is Rife with Terror Plots

By Montlake, Simon | The Christian Science Monitor, August 12, 2009 | Go to article overview
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For China, Far West Is Rife with Terror Plots


Montlake, Simon, The Christian Science Monitor


A bomb threat that forced a civilian plane to turn back Sunday on a flight from Afghanistan to western China is the latest in a series of alleged terror plots in restless Xinjiang province.

Authorities have offered no clear explanation of why the Boeing 767 carrying 168 passengers was denied permission to land in Urumqi, the city that erupted in ethnic rioting on July 5 killing nearly 200 people. No bomb was discovered, and the Afghan-operated plane successfully flew the same route on Monday.

With tensions still running high in Urumqi, the incident is a reminder of what China calls the threat of terrorism from groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. In 2002, the US State Department listed ETIM as a terrorist organization after China blamed it for scores of violent attacks in the previous decade.

But China's eagerness to label any opposition group in the traditionally Muslim province as separatists or terrorists - the words are used interchangeably - has muddied the picture. Foreign experts are doubtful that ETIM or other groups are capable of mounting terror attacks and argue that most antigovernment violence is haphazard.

Terrorism provides "a ready-made template for every incident. Everything has to be supported and organized by external forces," says Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong.

China's official narrative blames the World Uyghur Congress led by US-based Rebiya Kadeer for instigating the July 5 riots.

Chinese experts say the WUC is a front for the ETIM and that it seeks to pry away Xinjiang using armed struggle, reviving an East Turkestan republic that China crushed in 1949.

"The task of the WUC is to unify [terrorist] groups into one organization," says Li Wei, director of antiterrorism research at the China Contemporary International Relations Research Institute in Beiijing.

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