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Empty places at the table: Uighur children missing in China

September 21, 2018

ISTANBUL (AP) — Chinese authorities are placing the children of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities into dozens of state-run orphanages across the far western Xinjiang region, as around 1 million adults in their families are sent to internment camps.

The orphanages are only the latest example of Beijing’s efforts to systematically distance young Muslims in Xinjiang from their families and culture. Uighurs fear such efforts are erasing their ethnic identity, one child at a time.

In Istanbul, The Associated Press spoke to a dozen Uighur families during the Muslim holy festival Eid al-Adha, which comes with large family reunions. Tables in every home were resplendently laid out with traditional Xinjiang dishes like homemade noodles, freshly butchered lamb and crispy nan bread.

But the Uighurs who fled China to avoid detention describe the sharp absence of the children they left behind — children who they believe are now in the hands of the very government tearing their families apart.

Some did not want their full names used for fear of retribution against relatives still in Xinjiang.

STILL WAITING

Back in the southern Xinjiang city of Hotan, Aziz ran his own medical clinic. The 37-year-old surgeon says he was on his way to buy a new car when he received a call from his local police station ordering him to immediately report to authorities.

Already, more than half of Aziz’s neighbors had been taken away to re-education centers or prison, he says, and he didn’t want to end up like them.

He went straight to the airport after hanging up the phone. He told no one, not even his wife, because he feared that anyone he communicated with would be caught as well. Like many Uighurs who fled China in recent years, Aziz thought that he just needed to wait for the political situation to calm down.

More than a year later, he is waiting still.

Aziz said of his wife and four kids, including a 4-year-old son named Ibrahim: “I didn’t realize they were my everything until I lost them.”

“I’M SORRY”

As a young nursing student in Hotan, Meripet earned good grades and easily obtained her license. She worked for a private hospital until she got married and decided to “use all (her) heart” to raise her kids.

Meripet’s goal was for her children to become “useful people.” When she walked her son to school every day, she would take the opportunity to instruct him on how to do good deeds and treat his family well. At home, they read books about successful Muslims, says Meripet, now 29 years old.

“Every minute I spent with them, I remember clearly,” she said.

During this year’s Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holy festival, Meripet gave her youngest son a new outfit of denim jeans, a striped vest and a green and silver bowtie, newly-purchased for the holiday.

The moment was bittersweet: one-year-old Abduweli is Meripet’s only child in Turkey. He has never met his four older siblings, whom Meripet believes are in a state-run de facto orphanage in China.

“If God gave me a chance to speak to my children, I would have so much to say,” Meripet said. “The biggest thing would be to say — I’m sorry.”

“YOU SHOULD COOPERATE”

For Qurbanjan Nurmemet and Gulgine Mehmut, restaurant owners from the northern Xinjiang city of Karamay, receiving news about their oldest son has meant by turns resisting and succumbing to blackmail.

The whole family — Nurmemet, Mehmut and their five kids — moved to Istanbul in 2015. But in early 2016, their then-16-year-old son, Pakzat Qurban, boarded a flight bound for Xinjiang with the intention of visiting his ailing grandfather.

Pakzat was the family’s pride. Bright and athletic, he had entered calligraphy and boxing competitions in their hometown and scored highly in both.

He was apprehended at the Urumqi airport, his parents said.

About two months after his son disappeared into the hands of authorities, someone claiming to be a Karamay police officer added Nurmemet on a Chinese messaging app, Nurmemet said. For nearly three years now, the man has sporadically sent them photos or updates about their son, promising to continue sharing information if the couple helps him spy on Uighurs in Turkey.

Nurmemet said the contact sent him an eerie message before Eid al-Adha this year: “I spoke to your son recently. He calls me often to tell me about his joys and miseries. I’m the only one now that your son loves and trusts, and he says you should cooperate.”

PARENTS NOT ALLOWED

Adil said his kids started disappearing from his life even while he was still a businessman in Kashgar.

In 2014, his then-nine-year-old son had to enroll in a boarding school and was only allowed to come home on the weekends. The newly-built boarding school was the only option for children living in their Uighur district, Adil said, and it was understood that parents who did not send their kids there would be breaking the law and punished.

He and his wife, who has since been sent to an internment camp, once visited their son during a class break. Adil was nervous. The iron bars around the school’s windows reminded him of a zoo.

“How’s school?” Adil asked his son when he finally came out of the schoolyard, with the gatekeeper’s permission. “Are you eating well?” Adil thought his son looked frail.

Adil asked if he could visit his son’s classroom. His son told him no, parents were not allowed inside.

MOTHER AND SON JAILED

Halmurat Idris and his wife spent their last night together arguing. His wife, Gulzar Seley, and their infant son were about to travel from Istanbul back to Xinjiang to see Seley’s dying mother.

Idris pleaded with her not to go — he had heard about Uighurs being detained for going abroad.

But Seley was determined. She was devastated that she had already missed her father’s death and stayed up tearfully watching videos of her sick mother. Plus, Seley didn’t think she would be targeted by the crackdown.

“We’re raising children and going to work!” she told Idris. “We’re not opposing the Chinese Communist Party!”

Seley was detained upon landing at the Urumqi airport and taken to Karamay, her hometown. Though she was released after a few days, police followed her everywhere she went.

She told Idris that she wouldn’t be coming back to Istanbul because she “didn’t have time.”

A month after Seley’s return to China, she disappeared. Idris said he later learned that she was sent to prison, and that his son was jailed with her.

“My brain couldn’t process this cruelty,” Idris said. “What on earth are they doing?”

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China’s Uighurs despair of children’s fate in hands of state

September 21, 2018

ISTANBUL (AP) — Every morning, Meripet wakes up to her nightmare: The Chinese government has turned four of her children into orphans, even though she and their father are alive. Meripet and her husband left the kids with their grandmother at home in China when they went to nurse Meripet’s sick father in Turkey. But after Chinese authorities started locking up thousands of their fellow ethnic Uighurs for alleged subversive crimes such as travel abroad, a visit became exile.

Then, her mother-in-law was also taken prisoner, and Meripet learned from a friend that her 3- to 8-year-olds had been placed in a de facto orphanage in the Xinjiang region, under the care of the state that broke up her family.

“It’s like my kids are in jail,” Meripet said, her voice cracking. “My four children are separated from me and living like orphans.” Meripet’s family is among tens of thousands swept up in President Xi Jinping’s campaign to subdue a sometimes restive region, including the internment of more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities that has alarmed a United Nations panel and the U.S. government . Now there is evidence that the government is placing the children of detainees and exiles into dozens of orphanages across Xinjiang.

The orphanages are the latest example of how China is systematically distancing young Muslims in Xinjiang from their families and culture, The Associated Press has found through interviews with 15 Muslims and a review of procurement documents. The government has been building thousands of so-called “bilingual” schools, where minority children are taught in Mandarin and penalized for speaking in their native tongues. Some of these are boarding schools, which Uighurs say can be mandatory for children and, in a Kazakh family’s case, start from the age of 5.

China says the orphanages help disadvantaged children, and it denies the existence of internment camps for their parents. It prides itself on investing millions of yuan in education in Xinjiang to steer people out of poverty and away from terrorism. At a regular news briefing Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the measures taken in Xinjiang were necessary for “stability, development, harmony” and to fight ethnic separatists.

But Uighurs fear that these measures are essentially wiping out their ethnic identity, one child at a time. Experts say what China is doing echoes how white colonialists in the U.S., Canada and Australia treated indigenous children — policies that have left generations traumatized.

“This is an ethnic group whose knowledge base is being erased,” said Darren Byler, a researcher of Uighur culture at University of Washington. “What we’re looking at is something like a settler colonial situation where an entire generation is lost.”

For Meripet, the loss is agony; it is the absence of her children and the knowledge they are in state custody. A year and a half after leaving home, the 29-year-old mother looked at a photo of a brightly painted building surrounded by barbed wire where her children are believed to be held. She fell silent. And then she wept.

“When I finally see them again, will they even recognize me?” she asked. “Will I recognize them?”

“PROTECTION OF DISADVANTAGED CHILDREN”

When Xi came to power in 2012, an early challenge to his rule was a surge in violent attacks that killed several hundred people and which Beijing pinned on Uighur separatists. Since then, Xi has overseen the most extensive effort in recent years to quell Xinjiang, appointing in 2016 the former Tibet party boss Chen Quanguo to lead the troubled region bordering Afghanistan.

Chen rolled out unprecedented security measures such as the internment camps that hold Muslims without trial and force them to renounce their faith and swear loyalty to the ruling Communist Party. China has described religious extremism as an illness that needs to be cured through what it calls “transformation through education.” Former detainees say one can be thrown into a camp for praying regularly, reading the Quran, going abroad or even speaking to someone overseas.

The camps are among the most troubling aspects of Xi’s campaign to assert the party’s dominance over all aspects of Chinese life, which has drawn comparisons with Mao Zedong. Authorities heeding Xi’s call to “Sinicize” religion across the country have shut underground churches , burned Bibles , replaced pictures of Jesus with ones of Xi, and toppled crescents from mosques. The party also has beefed up its ability to track the movements of its 1.4 billion people, with Xinjiang serving as an important testing ground.

In Xinjiang, detention has left countless children without their parents. Most of these families in China cannot be reached by journalists. However, the AP interviewed 14 Uighur families living in Turkey and one Kazakh man in Almaty with a total of 56 children who remain in China.

The families say that among these children, 14 are known to be in state-run orphanages and boarding schools. The whereabouts of the rest are unknown because most of their adult relatives in Xinjiang have been detained.

Some interviewees, like Meripet, requested that they be identified only by their first names because they feared official retaliation against their relatives. Others insisted their full names be used despite the risks, saying they were desperate for their stories to be heard. They pleaded with reporters to track down their families in Xinjiang, and one interviewee pressed a piece of paper into a reporter’s hand with a Chinese address scribbled on it.

The regional government appears to be moving quickly to build centers to house the children of these exiles and of detainees. An AP review of procurement notices in Xinjiang has found that since the start of last year, the government has budgeted more than $30 million (200 million Chinese yuan) to build or expand at least 45 orphanages, known variously as children’s “welfare centers” and “protection centers,” with enough beds to house about 5,000 children.

In July and August alone, the government invited bids for the construction of at least nine centers for the “protection of disadvantaged children” in the Xinjiang city of Hotan and several counties in Kashgar, Aksu and Kizilsu prefectures, inhabited primarily by ethnic minorities. Most orphanages have a minimum of 100 beds mandated by the government, and some are much larger. One notice called for an orphanage in Moyu county with four four-story dormitories, coming to 22,776 square meters in size — nearly as big as four football fields.

These numbers do not include kindergartens and other schools where some children of Uighur detainees are being housed. It’s impossible to tell how many children of detainees end up at these schools because they also serve other children.

Shi Yuqing, a Kashgar civil affairs official, told the AP over the phone that “authorities provide aid and support to everyone in need, whether they’re the children of convicted criminals or people killed in traffic accidents.” But such services may not be welcome. A government report from Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture in June last year acknowledged that relatives were resistant to “handing over” their extended families’ kids to the orphanages because they “lack trust or confidence” in the centers.

A friend told Meripet last November her four children were living in the Hotan City Kindness Kindergarten in southern Xinjiang. The friend said Meripet’s sister-in-law had visited her children and was permitted to take them home for one night only.

The school looks like a house-sized castle, with a bright marigold facade, orange turrets and blue rooftops. Its entrance is blocked by an iron gate and a walled enclosure lined with barbed wire. “We Are Happy and Grateful to the Motherland,” say the red characters emblazoned on one fence.

The principal, who gave only her last name, Ai, told AP reporters that the institution is “just a normal kindergarten.” But the authorities’ anxiety was clear: armed police officers surrounded the reporters’ car minutes after their arrival at the school and ordered them to delete any photos.

Gu Li, a propaganda official for Hotan who also immediately appeared on site, said: “There are really young kids here — some of them may even be orphans whose parents have died.”

A report published this February in the Xinjiang Daily, a party newspaper, called Hotan City Kindness Kindergarten a “free, full-time” kindergarten for children 6 and younger that provides accommodations and clothing to those whose “parents cannot care for them for a variety of reasons.”

“Soon after many of the kids arrived at the school, they grew taller and got fatter, and quickly started using Mandarin to communicate,” the article said. Another state media report in January said $1.24 million (8,482,200 yuan) had been invested in the kindergarten.

Satellite imagery shows that the kindergarten was constructed less than three years ago, just as an initiative was launched to strengthen “bilingual” education in Xinjiang. More than 4,300 bilingual kindergartens were built or renovated last year, according to the government. A report on the project in a state-run regional newspaper said such kindergartens teach children “civilized living habits.”

“The children started educating their parents: your hands are too dirty, your clothes are too dirty, you haven’t brushed your teeth,” the report quoted Achilem Abduwayit, a deputy chief of the Hotan city education bureau, as saying.

Life in an orphanage could have a lasting psychological and cultural impact on children, said James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

“You grow up as a ward of the state,” he said. “They’re told to be patriotic citizens, told that the identity and religion of their parents was abnormal, if not radical, and thus needs to be eradicated.”

Meripet has at least an inkling of where her children are. Her brother, a 37-year-old doctor named Aziz, has not heard any news of his three youngest children since his wife was taken to a re-education center in June 2017.

Aziz fled to Turkey more than a year ago after he received a call from his local police station ordering him to report to authorities immediately. More than half his neighbors had already been taken away to re-education centers or prison, he said.

Now the young doctor is often shaken awake by a nightmare in which his kids are huddling at the bottom of a cliff, their faces smudged with dirt, calling to him to hoist them up. Aziz walks for what feels like hours but cannot reach them. He awakens with their cries ringing in his ears.

“If I could, I would choose not to have been born as a Uighur, to not have been born in Xinjiang,” Aziz said. “We are the most unfortunate ethnic group in the world.”

“THEY WON’T BE LIKE US ANYMORE”

The government says all 2.9 million students attending compulsory elementary and junior high school in Xinjiang will receive Mandarin instruction by this month, up from just 39 percent in 2016.

Even preschoolers are steeped in the language. A former teacher at a “bilingual” kindergarten outside Kashgar said all lessons were given in Mandarin and the entirely Uighur student body was banned from speaking Uighur at school. A colleague who used Uighur to explain concepts to students was fired, according to the teacher, who lives in Turkey but asked for anonymity because she fears retribution against family in China.

Like all schools in China, this one immersed children in patriotic education. Kindergarten textbooks were filled with songs like “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China,” the teacher said.

Dilnur, a 35-year-old business student in exile in Istanbul, said officials regularly visited her children’s kindergarten in Kashgar and asked the students if their parents read religious verses at home or participated in other faith-based activities. The questions effectively forced children to spy on their own families. A man was taken away by police after his grandson said in class that he had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, she said.

Her seven-year-old daughter once complained that her throat was sore from chanting party slogans. “Mama, what does it mean to love the motherland?” she asked.

Some bilingual schools are boarding schools, which are not uncommon in China. Xinjiang has long provided voluntary boarding school programs that are seen as coveted opportunities for the best minority students. But several Uighurs asserted that in many cases boarding school was now mandatory for minority children, even though Han Chinese children could choose to continue living at home.

The Xinjiang government did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The government has said the tuition-free boarding schools relieve parents of education and living expenses and help raise Mandarin standards, which will make their children more employable.

But Uighurs say they don’t want their culture erased.

“If the kids are forced to speak Mandarin and live like Han Chinese every day, I’m afraid they won’t be like us anymore,” said Meriyem Yusup, whose extended family has four children sent to state-run orphanages in Xinjiang.

Adil Dalelkhan, an ethnic Kazakh sock merchant in exile in Almaty, said that even though his then 5-year-old son could live with relatives, he was forced to stay at his preschool Mondays through Fridays instead. The father called the policy a “terrifying” step toward extinguishing Kazakh culture.

A Uighur businessman in Istanbul, also named Adil, told a similar story. Adil’s son was 9 years old when the school system automatically transferred him to a boarding school. All children of a certain age in their Uighur district were obliged to attend boarding school, Adil said. His son was only permitted to come home on weekends and holidays.

“There were iron bars like we saw in a zoo in Kashgar,” Adil recalled.

Dilnur said her neighbors too were only allowed to visit their kids at boarding school on Wednesday nights, and even then they had to hand them candies through a fence.

“The educational goals are secondary to the political goals,” said Timothy Grose, a professor at Indiana’s Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology who has done research on Xinjiang boarding schools. “They aim to dissolve loyalties to ethnic identity… toward a national identity.”

A government notice posted in February in Kashgar states that children in the fourth grade and above with parents in detention must be sent to boarding school immediately — even if one parent is still at home. Students must be instilled with socialist values, the notice said, and be taught to “be grateful for education and love and repay the motherland,” and avoid the “75 types of behavior that show religious extremism.” Such behavior ranges from calling for ‘holy war’ to growing beards and quitting smoking and drinking for religious reasons, the government says.

China insists it guarantees the freedom of religion, but Uighurs view the Chinese education system as a threat to it. In schools, children are taught to respect teachers more than their parents and may criticize their parents’ Islamic faith, according to Byler.

“The students, children, might question them and say, you know, this is backward, this is extremist,” he said.

The Kashgar notice also said schools being modified to house students should place no more than 24 beds in one room–an indication of the program’s size. In 2015, a sprawling new boarding school complex was completed on the outskirts of Kashgar, with the capacity to house 23,400 students and teachers, according to the state-run China Daily.

Abdurehim Imin, a writer from Kashgar, said a friend told him his 14-year-old daughter was sent to a bilingual school in 2015 after his wife was arrested, ostensibly for receiving a gift of olive oil he sent her. When AP reporters visited what was likely his daughter’s school, Peyzawat County No. 4 High School, a local plainclothes officer who identified herself as Gu Li said it was a bilingual boarding school. She said that while Uighur students had to study Mandarin, there were also Han Chinese students studying Uighur.

Yet the exterior of the school bore bright red lettering that said: “Please speak Mandarin upon entering the schoolyard.” Barbed wire around the campus extended for miles, with rows of tall apartment buildings marked as dormitories.

A historian at the University of Sydney, David Brophy, said the move toward boarding schools brings to mind Aboriginal children in Australia who were forcibly separated from their families in the 1900s and placed into state-run institutions that discouraged indigenous identity.

“Should China’s policies continue in this direction, we may be talking about a Chinese version of the Stolen Generation,” he said.

‘AN ETERNAL TORTURE’

Since coming to Istanbul by himself in 2014, 42-year-old Imin, the writer, has led a solitary existence in a dimly-lit apartment with bare walls and stacks of writings. For the first year, he avoided looking at photos of his children.

“We are dying every day,” Imin said. “We cannot see our kids, we cannot see our parents. This is an eternal torture.”

In December, he was sent a photo of his daughter wearing a traditional Chinese “qipao”. He deleted the picture because he could not bear to look at it, he said, and could not sleep for nearly a month.

Imin also has four other children in Xinjiang. Last summer, a friend who had visited his home in Kashgar told Imin that two of his kids were killed in a traffic accident while his wife was in jail. He doesn’t know where the other two are.

Feeling helpless, he wrote verse after verse in mourning:

“I will go…to tear down your dark, endless night…

I will go, to embrace again my hometown…

I will go, bearing my sorrow to your tomb.”

Elsewhere in Istanbul, Meripet’s house was quiet during Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holy festival heralded by large family reunions. In a room at the end of the hall, there rose the distant laughter of relatives’ children, children who were not hers.

She flipped through the photographs which she keeps in her purse: Abdurahman, the oldest; Adile, her only daughter; and her two younger sons, Muhemmed and Abdulla. Meripet has a fifth child, a son named Abduweli who was born in Turkey. She calls him “my only light.”

“Sometimes I wonder if I will go crazy from this pain,” she says. “I have only been able to keep living because I know there is hope — I know one day I will see my children again.”

AP Exclusive: Anger with China drives Uighurs to Syria fight

December 22, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — It was mid-afternoon when the Chinese police officers barged into Ali’s house set against cotton fields outside the ancient Silk Road trading post of Kashgar. The Uighur farmer and his cowering parents watched them rummage through the house until they found two books in his bedroom — a Quran and a handbook on dealing with interrogations.

Ali knew he was in trouble. By nightfall the next day, Ali had been tied against a tree and beaten by interrogators trying to force him to say he took part in an ethnic riot that killed dozens in western China. They held burning cigarette tips to Ali’s face, deprived him of sleep and offered him only salt water. When he asked for fresh water, they gave it to him — in buckets poured over his head.

That winter night in 2009, Ali recalled years later, would set him on a path that ended on northern Syria’s smoldering plains, where he picked up a Kalashnikov rifle under the black flag of jihad and dreamed of launching attacks against the Chinese rulers of his homeland.

Since 2013, thousands of Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority from western China, have traveled to Syria to train with the Uighur militant group Turkistan Islamic Party and fight alongside al-Qaida, playing key roles in several battles. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops are now clashing with Uighur fighters as the six-year conflict nears its endgame.

But the end of Syria’s war may be the beginning of China’s worst fears. “We didn’t care how the fighting went or who Assad was,” said Ali, who would only give his first name out of a fear of reprisals against his family back home. “We just wanted to learn how to use the weapons and then go back to China.”

Uighur militants have killed hundreds, if not thousands, in attacks inside China in a decades-long insurgency that initially targeted police and other symbols of Chinese authority but in recent years also included civilians. Extremists with knives killed 33 people at a train station in 2014. Abroad, they bombed the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan in September last year; in 2014, they killed 25 people in an attack on a Thai shrine popular with Chinese tourists.

China is just like the West, its officials say: the country is a victim of terror, and Uighur men are pulled by global jihadi ideology rather than driven by grievances at home. Muslims in the Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, as one Chinese official declared in August, “are the happiest in the world.”

But rare and extensive Associated Press interviews with nine Uighurs who had left China to train and fight in Syria showed that Uighurs don’t neatly fit the profile of foreign fighters answering the call of jihad.

There was a police trainer who journeyed thousands of miles with his wife and children to Syria, a war zone. A farmer who balked at fundamentalist Islam even though he charged into battle alongside al-Qaida. A shopkeeper who prayed five times a day and then at night huddled with others in a ruined Syrian neighborhood to study Zionist history.

And there was Ali, a short, soft-spoken 30-year-old with a primary school education who knew little of the world beyond his 35-acre farm when he left China, a home that had become unlivable. Sitting cross-legged one recent evening in an empty apartment overlooking a kickboxing gym in Istanbul, he recalled the vow he made the night Chinese police beat him for participating in a riot he never joined.

“I’ll get revenge,” he said.

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY

Ali’s parents eventually got him out of detention — but it cost them 10,000 yuan ($1,500) in bribes to local officials, no small amount for the family of farmers.

Despite his release, Ali was not free.

It was late 2009, and Xinjiang was in lockdown. Four months earlier, hundreds of Uighurs had rioted in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, and attacked the Han, China’s dominant ethnic group. An estimated 200 people died in the unrest that night, the bloodiest ethnic violence the country had seen in decades and an event that would change Ali’s life and that of 10 million Uighurs in Xinjiang.

The government, caught off-guard by the unrest, rolled out an expansive security crackdown and surveillance programs in the region that have accelerated in the last year . Thousands of Uighurs, including moderate Uighur intellectuals, are believed to have been arrested or detained, some of them without trial.

Ali was constantly stopped and questioned wherever he went. He couldn’t check into a hotel, buy a train ticket or get a passport.

“I had nowhere to go,” he said. “Except out.”

As the repression mounted, what began as a trickle of Uighurs fleeing China grew into a mass exodus. In 2013, more than 10,000 left across southern China’s porous borders, according to Uighur exiles. Nearly all the Uighurs who spoke to the AP after returning to Turkey from Syria recounted being persecuted by Chinese authorities as a motive for taking up arms.

“The Chinese government had been accusing Uighurs of militancy for a long time when there hasn’t been much of a threat,” said Sean R. Roberts, an expert on Uighur issues at George Washington University. “That changed after the 2009 crackdown. It’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

ESCAPE AND ROAD TO SYRIA

Desperate to leave China, Ali paid more than 100,000 yuan ($15,000) to human smugglers and made his way overland through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, where he received a Turkish travel document.

In Turkey, Ali drifted in Istanbul, working construction and electrical jobs for $300 a month. Within two months, his brother said he had met people who could take them to Syria, where they could learn weapons training and return to China to “liberate” their friends and family.

“We’ll avenge our relatives being tortured in Chinese jail,” he said.

Ali agreed, thinking they would go for a few weeks. They ended up spending two-and-a-half years in Syria.

The story of how Ali ended up in a distant war zone echoed the experiences of other Uighurs the AP spoke to in Turkey, who said they joined religious militant groups at first because of grievances against Beijing or support for the idea of a Uighur nation. Most knew little about political Islam that fueled jihadis in other countries, and none said they met with recruiters inside China.

But that changed as soon as they left China’s borders. As Uighur refugees traveled along an underground railroad in Southeast Asia, they said, they were greeted by a network of Uighur militants who offered food and shelter — and their extremist ideology. And when the refugees touched down in Turkey, they were again wooed by recruiters who openly roamed the streets of Istanbul in gritty immigrant neighborhoods like Zeytinburnu and Sefakoy, looking for fresh fighters to shuttle to Syria.

Uighur activists and Syrian and Chinese officials estimate that at least 5,000 Uighurs have gone to Syria to fight — though many have since left. Among those, several hundred have joined the Islamic State, according to former fighters and Syrian officials.

As Uighurs streamed out of China, militant leaders have seized upon China’s treatment of Muslims as a recruiting tactic. The Islamic State, for instance, regularly publishes Uighur-language editions of its radio bulletins and magazines, while the Turkistan Islamic Party has been releasing videos on a near-weekly basis, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence monitoring group.

“How can those who are imprisoned due to their faith be freed? How can they be saved from this humiliation?” a masked Uighur fighter says in a Turkestan Islamic Party video released last year. “Words from our mouths won’t help, but jihad for Allah will.”

A FARAWAY WAR

From Istanbul, several of the former fighters described taking buses or being driven to the border region of Hatay, where they would cross on foot at night through lightly guarded hills. After a three-hour hike into Syria, cars waited in a forest clearing to whisk them to separate camps dotting the country’s north. One fighter said he simply drove in, unobstructed, on the highway from the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

When the Uighurs arrived in Jisr al-Shughour, a strategic town on the edge of Assad’s stronghold of Latakia region, men with families, like Ali, moved into a ruined neighborhood of single-story brick homes where 150 families stayed. Single men lived together in larger apartment buildings.

The men undertook three-month training sessions in the use of Soviet AKM rifles, shoulder-mounted rocket-propelled grenade launchers, physical conditioning and mapping.

At the beginning of the course, the trainers showed off their prized cache of captured American M-16s and German G3 rifles, but each fighter received a battered AKM and cheap Chinese ammunition. Boys as young as 12 and 13 — mostly orphans — were taken to a separate camp for religious classes and physical training.

Two fighters said they received boxes of food from IHH, a Turkish Islamic charity group, that included rice, flour, meat and even fish imported from Thailand. One of the fighters said the food supplies were labeled with the foreign fighting group they were being shipped to — for example, “Turkistanis (Uighurs) or Uzbeks.”

IHH spokesman Mustafa Ozbek said the group distributes aid in refugee camps near the Syrian border to civilians, but not armed groups.

“All of our aid is conducted officially, documented and reported,” Ozbek said.

The Uighurs in Syria have a reputation for administering their territory with a light touch, said Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a British researcher at the Middle East Forum who has extensively interviewed jihadis in Syria, including Uighur fighters. They don’t enforce an Islamic court system or replace local councils — unlike their close allies, the al-Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee.

Instead, an older Uighur would convene young fighters in the evenings to discuss history and politics. They looked to an improbable model for building an independent homeland: Israel and the Zionist movement.

“We studied how the Jews built their country,” Ali said. “Some of them fought, some of them provided money. We don’t have a strong background of that.”

Few Uighurs spoke Arabic and most didn’t mingle with locals, but at one point some residents joked that Uighurs should rename the city Shughuristan, a play on “East Turkistan,” the Uighur exiles’ preferred name for their homeland. The Uighurs were unconvinced.

“This is not our homeland,” Ali and his comrades told the Arabs. “We want our homeland, we don’t need yours.”

FEARLESS ‘PAWNS’

Like Ali, Rozi Mehmet wanted to do something to help his people fight Chinese oppression. His grandfather, a wealthy Uighur farmer, had been executed in the tumult of China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

Three years ago, Mehmet left the ancient oasis town of Hotan and hiked into Syria to join a class of 52 Turkistan Islamic Party trainees.

Within six months, he would be on the front lines with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher strapped to his skinny back, sprinting toward government positions near Jisr al-Shughour.

Jihadi clerics have exhorted Uighurs to take up holy war and reap the rewards of martyrdom. But if he would take a bullet, Mehmet thought as he rushed into battle, he wasn’t dying for Islam — or the virgins that the preachers promised. His homeland was the only thing on his mind.

“I didn’t feel fear,” he told the AP. “If I felt fear, how could I be able to build my country?”

As fighting escalated in 2015 and 2016, hundreds of Uighurs died in its campaigns alongside al-Qaida’s Nusra Front, according to two former fighters who fought in northern Syria.

Radical groups have aggressively recruited Uighurs. Al-Qaida’s leader promised in a video that Islamic militants would repay the Uighurs by striking at “atheist Chinese occupiers” after the Syrian war. The Islamic State has echoed similar pledges and the group in March released a Uighur-language propaganda video vowing to one day shed Chinese blood if Uighurs would join the Syrian struggle.

As the chaotic opposition splintered and reorganized, groups vied for the Uighurs’ support and lauded them for their suicide attacks that often kept the Syrian army off-balance, Mehmet boasted.

An older fighter, also from Hotan, chided the young man, saying he was more cynical about why the Arab jihadis lavished them with praise.

“They praise us, which means they want us to follow them and fight for them,” said Rozi Tohti, 40, who fought near the city of Idlib. They “are trying to lure us to become their pawns.”

DISSENT IN SYRIA

THREAT TO CHINA

But several Uighur fighters insisted that, in their minds, there was a distinct line between themselves and the Islamic militants they fought beside. Some Uighurs complained about being stuck in Syria instead of attacking China, as they had been promised.

“We fight for them and help them control the country, and then Uighurs are left with nothing,” Mehmet said.

After joining the TIP in mid-2015, Uighur fighter Abdulrehim visited a graveyard for fallen militants and wondered why there were no Uighur national banners. At one point, he openly challenged a TIP senior leader, Ibrahim Mansour, about what they were doing in Syria, he recalled.

“We haven’t fired a bullet against our enemy, China,” he told a group of gathered Uighur fighters. “We always fight alongside international terrorists. What’s going on here?”

Many Uighur militants have grown tired of the war and are looking to leave particularly as Assad’s forces gain the upper hand, says Seyit Tumturk, a Uighur activist in Turkey who often speaks to fighters in Syria.

He said it was impossible for Uighurs militants to liberate Xinjiang, currently blanketed with paramilitary forces and riot police. But he said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious project to develop railway lines, ports, and other infrastructure linking various regions to China makes Beijing vulnerable to militant attacks abroad.

The Islamic State took credit in June for kidnapping and killing two Chinese teachers in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, which is a cornerstone of Beijing’s so-called Belt and Road infrastructure project. In Kyrgyzstan, state security say a suicide bombing of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek was ordered by Uighur terrorist groups active in Syria and financed by al-Qaida’s Nusra Front.

Chinese officials and Western analysts alike say that the Uighurs’ experience in the Syrian jihadi melting pot will likely exacerbate violence against “soft” targets outside China. China’s foreign ministry called the Turkistan Islamic Party a security threat for the Middle East.

“We hope our brothers, including Syria and Turkey, will work with us, strengthen cooperation and cut off the terrorists’ cross-border movements and safeguard regional stability,” the ministry said in a faxed statement in response to questions from the AP.

The ministry did not address questions about the causes of radicalization but said that China’s government has invested heavily in Xinjiang’s economic development, protected its minorities’ rights and treated them just as every other ethnic group.

“Of course, when there are those who try to create tension in Xinjiang, the Chinese government’s commitment to striking against violent terror and ethnic splittism is unquestioned,” it said.

RETURN TO TURKEY AND AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

By June of this year, Ali had tired of Syria and wanted to get out. For him, the war consisted of spending months at a time manning checkpoints and patrolling borders.

But like many other Uighurs who sought to return to Turkey, he struggled to find a way back. Ali walked for a week to get around a wall built by the Turkish government on the border. He’s now back in Istanbul and selling milk.

Although some of the Uighur returnees said they would attack China if the opportunity arose, others balked at the idea.

Uighur community workers are concerned that many of those cast back into Turkish society would struggle to integrate and be easily pulled back into radical groups. Many of the men make $200 to $300 a month, barely enough to cover rent in Istanbul, and spoke poor Turkish. Many faced daily discrimination.

Activists also worry about TIP recruitment continuing unchecked in Turkey, where it appears to have a degree of official support.

This year, Turkish authorities detained TIP members including a former top commander, ostensibly for his own safety, said a diplomat in Beijing and a Uighur activist who was allowed by Turkish officials to speak with him. But Turkey refused to allow Chinese intelligence to interrogate the former commander, deeply frustrating Beijing, the diplomat said.

Uighur leaders say Turkish police also have released several well-known Uighur jihadi recruiters even after the community offered tips that led to their arrest.

“There are suspicions that these recruiters have links with some individuals or agencies within the government,” said Omer Kanat, director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington. “They’re turning a blind eye.”

Rozi Tohti, the middle-aged fighter from Hotan, sat in a meadow facing the ruined walls of old Constantinople and ruminated on the choices facing his compatriots in Turkey: give their lives to a radical Islamic movement that they did not believe in or struggle to settle into a Turkish society where they did not fit in.

One thing was clear. Returning to their homeland was out of the question.

“Who wants to live in a war zone?” Tohti said. “We once had paradise in our country. But it was being erased by the Chinese, so instead we looked for paradise in Syria.”

Uighur minority fighting in Syria says exiled leader

2017-02-13

MUNICH – An exiled advocate for China’s ethnic Uighur minority said Monday that some of the group were fighting and dying in Syria — including for Islamic State (IS) — though she claimed they had been duped into doing so.

Rebiya Kadeer, who heads the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), said that among the thousands of Uighurs who have fled to Southeast Asia, Turkey and elsewhere in recent years, a small number have ended up in the war-torn Middle Eastern country and have joined militant groups.

“Some Uighurs… died after Russian airplanes bombed them, they were killed in Syria,” she said at a press conference during a visit to Japan.

Russia’s militarily backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war, which erupted in 2011 and has left more than 300,000 people dead. Numerous groups, including IS, are fighting for control of the country.

The mostly Muslim Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language and number some 10 million, are native to the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang bordering Central Asia and have long complained of religious and cultural discrimination.

China has frequently warned that radical forces from outside have inspired terror attacks in Xinjiang as well as in other regions of the country and has launched a harsh crackdown.

It says among Uighurs who have fled are some seeking to train with extremists in Syria to eventually return and fight for independence in Xinjiang.

In 2015, China’s security ministry said more than 100 Uighurs that were repatriated by Thailand had been on their way to Turkey, Syria or Iraq “to join jihad”.

Once a wealthy and prominent businesswoman, Kadeer, now 70, fell out with the Chinese government and was jailed before her 2005 release into exile in the United States where she serves as president of the WUC.

She said Uighurs who end up in Syria are vulnerable and prone to being “brainwashed” into joining the fighting there, but still denounced them.

“We think they are just like criminal groups in our society,” she said.

The WUC describes itself as a “peaceful opposition movement against Chinese occupation of East Turkestan” — their name for Xinjiang.

It says it promotes “human rights, religious freedom, and democracy” for Uighurs and advocates “peaceful, nonviolent, and democratic means to determine their political future”.

But China has blamed the WUC, as well as the shadowy East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), of radicalizing Uighurs and fomenting violence and independence.

Overseas experts, however, have expressed skepticism, with some accusing China of exaggerating the Uighur threat to justify a tough security regime in resource-rich Xinjiang.

Human Rights groups argue that harsh police tactics and government campaigns against Muslim religious practices, such as the wearing of veils, have fueled Uighur violence.

China says it has boosted economic development in Xinjiang and upholds minority and religious rights for all of the country’s 56 ethnic groups.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81423.

Turkey takes in Uighur refugees; angers China

AUG 2, 2015

REUTERS

ISTANBUL/BEIJING – The folded piece of paper with a photo of a 4-month-old baby tells a story that likely loomed over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Chinese hosts during his visit to Beijing last week.

Baby Arife is a Uighur, one of thousands of members of China’s Turkic language-speaking Muslim ethnic minority who have reached Turkey, mostly since last year, infuriating Beijing, which accuses Ankara of helping its citizens flee unlawfully.

Turkish officials deny playing any direct role in assisting the flight. But the document, labeled “Republic of Turkey Emergency Alien’s Travel Document” suggests otherwise.

Arife’s mother, Summeye, 35, says she was given it, along with documents for herself and her three other children, by a diplomat at the Turkish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, which she reached after a nine day journey transported by people smugglers through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

The document, valid only for travel to Turkey, lists the baby’s place of birth as Turpan, a city in China’s western Xinjiang region. Under “nationality,” it says “East Turkestan,” the name Uighur activists and their Turkish supporters give for their Chinese-ruled homeland.

Other Uighurs in Istanbul said they too reached Turkey last year through a similar route, hiring people-smugglers to escape China and receiving travel documents on the way.

The issue is an uncomfortable one for Ankara, which says it is open to valid asylum claims by victims of repression who reach its territory, but denies acting abroad to assist the exodus of Uighurs that surged last year. Representatives of Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said they were not immediately able to comment on the temporary travel document.

Tong Bishan, a senior Chinese police officer helping to lead Beijing’s efforts to get Uighurs returned, said the issue of Turkey providing travel documents at embassies in southeast Asia has been raised “at high levels.”

“The general attitude of the Turkish government has been not bad,” he told reporters last month. “But what we have seen is that employees at Turkish embassies have been providing help.”

Uighurs fleeing China say they are escaping repression by the Chinese authorities.

“They don’t allow us to live as Muslims,” said another Uighur refugee, also named Sumeyye, who fled to Turkey last October with her three children and lives in the basement of a working-class housing block in Istanbul.

“You can’t pray. You can’t keep more than one Koran at home. You can’t teach Islam to your children. You can’t fast and you can’t go to Hajj. When you’re deprived of your whole identity, what’s the point?” she said, speaking through a translator and covered from head to toe in a chador.

Nationalist Turks regard the Uighurs as ethnic kin in peril and believe their government should do more to help them.

Earlier last month, when Thailand’s military rulers, under pressure from Beijing, forcibly deported nearly 100 Uighurs back to China, protests erupted in Turkey. The Thai consulate in Istanbul was stormed. There were reports of attacks on Chinese restaurants and east Asian tourists. A Chinese orchestra cancelled a concert.

In an apparent bid to placate Beijing, Erdogan said the unrest might have been aimed at damaging his trip, when he plans to raise the Uighurs’ plight.

On Wednesday, Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to strengthen cooperation in fighting terrorism and people smuggling, a senior Chinese diplomat said.

“Security and law enforcement cooperation is an important area for the two countries and both have agreed to strengthen cooperation,” Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Ming told reporters, after Xi and Erdogan met in Beijing.

Neither leader mentioned the issue while speaking before reporters.

China denies it represses the Uighurs and says their freedom of religion is respected. It accuses a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of waging an increasingly violent campaign for an independent state in Xinjiang and says it is recruiting followers to train in the Middle East.

“A lot of these people are victims. We don’t want to see them going to Turkey to become cannon fodder, to become new recruits for the terrorists,” said Tong, the Chinese police chief.

Uighurs themselves acknowledge that some members of their community have crossed from Turkey to fight alongside Islamic State militants in Syria, but say this is a small minority.

“These militants lure them, saying they will help them train for the Uighur cause, they will give them weapons and they will support them against China,” Uighur refugee Adil Abdulgaffar, 49, said in his apartment in Istanbul’s working-class Sefakoy district, next to a bookshelf filled with Muslim prayer books.

“I’ve known of people who have gone off to Syria from Turkey with hopes that these promises will come true. But I also know that they very much regret it and would like to come back,” he said. “Our brothers who have been battling for their existence for the past 50 to 60 years are longing for guns. They are also very naive, and open to being tricked.”

About 1,000 Uighurs are housed in a gated complex once used by the Turkish finance ministry in the conservative city of Kayseri in central Turkey, guarded by police.

The apartments, spread across around 10, five-story blocks, are spacious but sparsely furnished. Two large flags hang from one of the top floors, one the red Turkish flag, the other the blue flag of East Turkestan. One apartment is used as a Koranic school for young boys.

Many of the residents told stories of persecution in China and arduous journeys out, paying smugglers thousands of dollars to evade onerous travel restrictions imposed by Beijing.

“For these traffickers, Uighurs mean money, Uighurs mean cash. If you are Vietnamese … they charge $1,000, but when you are Uighur the price goes up five-fold, sometimes ten-fold,” said 54-year old Erkin Huseyin.

He said he had left Xinjiang in early 2014 after being told his brother, sick and imprisoned without trial since 1998, would not be allowed to see a doctor and would not leave jail alive.

“We were born into a life of oppression,” said another refugee, Omar Abdulgaffar, 44. “Our parents have gone through this and I thought… why should my children go through it too? So we escaped.”

Source: Japan Times.

Link: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/02/world/turkey-takes-uighur-refugees-angers-china/.

Activists slam Thailand’s repatriation of Uighurs to China

July 09, 2015

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand sent back to China more than 100 ethnic Uighur refugees on Thursday, drawing harsh criticism from the U.N. refugee agency and human rights groups over concerns that they face persecution by the Chinese government.

Protesters in Turkey, which accepted an earlier batch of Uighur refugees from Thailand, ransacked the Thai Consulate in Istanbul overnight. Police in the capital, Ankara, used pepper spray to push back a group of Uighur protesters who tried to break through a barricade outside the Chinese Embassy.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry condemned Thailand, saying the deportation violated international humanitarian laws and came despite “numerous initiatives” by Turkey to prevent their repatriation. It said Turkey will continue to monitor their fate.

Thai deputy government spokesman Maj. Gen. Verachon Sukhonthapatipak said Thailand had assurances from Chinese authorities about the safety of 109 Uighurs. However, in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China would take action against those suspected of breaking the law.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that as a third country, the matter was not Thailand’s problem, and that the place they were sent to — he did not name China — would take care of it according to its justice system.

“I’m asking if we don’t do it this way, then how would we do it?” he said. “Or do you want us to keep them for ages until they have children for three generations?” The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it was “shocked” and considered Thailand’s action “a flagrant violation of international law.”

The Uighur group had been in Thailand for over a year, along with others who had fled China and claimed to be Turkish, Verachon said. Thai authorities sought to verify their nationalities before relocating them, he said.

“We found that about 170 of them were Turkish, so they were recently sent to Turkey,” he said. “And about 100 were Chinese, so they were sent to China as of this morning, under the agreement that their safety is guaranteed according to humanitarian principles.” He denied reports from Uighur activists that the refugees resisted deportation and some had been hurt.

Two witnesses who saw the Uighurs being led into trucks to be driven to Bangkok’s military airport said the men were handcuffed and some of women were crying and shouted, “Help us! Don’t allow them to send us back to China.”

Bilal Degirmenci and a colleague from the Turkish humanitarian group Cansuyu said they were forced by police to delete photos and video they had taken of the Uighurs, and were threatened with punishment if any were published or posted on the Internet.

The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in China’s far western Xinjiang region. The group has complained of cultural and religious suppression as well as economic marginalization under Chinese rule.

The U.N. agency said it repeatedly brought up the matter of the Uighur refugees with the Thai government, and “in response, the agency was given assurances that the matter would be handled in accordance with international legal standards, and that the group would continue to receive protection.”

Such deportations violate the right to protection against return to a country where a person has reason to fear persecution, said Volker Türk, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection, said in a statement.

China’s position is that the Uighurs left the country illegally. Beijing has accused Uighur separatists of terrorism in Xinjiang, where ethnic violence has left hundreds of people dead over the past two years.

“China’s relevant departments will bring those who are suspected of committing serious crimes to justice according to law,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua told reporters. “As for those who are not suspected of committing crimes or who commit lesser offences, we will find proper ways to deal with them.”

In Turkey, which has cultural ties to the Uighurs and agreed to take in the other 170 refugees despite China’s objections, mostly Uighur protesters vandalized the Thai Consulate in Istanbul. The office was closed on Thursday.

Police allowed about 100 protesters to pray outside the consulate before taking nine of them away for questioning. The Thai Embassy issued a statement urging its nationals in Turkey to be on alert. The World Uyghur Congress, a German-based advocacy group, said those repatriated could face criminal charges and harsh punishment, possibly execution, under China’s opaque legal system — the reasons they fled China in the first place.

“The extradition is a dirty political deal between the Thai and Chinese authorities,” spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in a statement.

Associated Press writers Didi Tang in Beijing and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Al-Qaeda Calls for Caliphate in China’s Xinjiang

By Joshua Philipp, Epoch Times

October 26, 2014

A new recruiting magazine for al-Qaeda has a two-page spread that lists China’s abuses of Uyghurs in its far-west region of Xinjiang, which the Uyghurs call East Turkestan.

The magazine, “Resurgence,” was just launched by al-Qaeda’s propaganda branch, al-Sahab media organization. The inforgraphic appears in its first edition.

The infographic features “10 Facts” about Xinjiang. It says the region “remained independent of China for more than 1800 years” yet for the last 237 years it has been “under Chinese occupation at various intervals.”

It continues, noting that after the Chinese Communist Party took over the region in 1949, more than 4.5 million Muslims were killed by the Chinese regime. It claims the regime has burned close to 30,700 Muslim religious texts, turned 28,000 mosques into bars, turned 18,000 mudrassas into warehouses, and executed more than 120,000 Muslim scholars and imams.

The list of China’s crimes against the Uighurs could go on for some time, including its nuclear weapons tests close to populated areas and its often violent suppression of the Uyghur people.

The magazine stops short of calling for attacks on China, but does claim in a different section that Islamic uprisings will bring “bitter defeat for America, Iran, Russia, China and all those who have fought this war by proxy against Muslims.”

It also states that if the Sykes-Picot Agreement is abolished, people in Pakistan, Xinjiang, and other Muslim countries will be able to live under the Islamic Caliphate. The Sykes-Picot Agreement was passed in 1916 and divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

The magazine is the first English-language magazine from al-Qaeda central, according to The Diplomat. It appears to pull influence from “Inspire” which is a similar English-language magazine published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Both magazines seem to share a similar goal, which is to recruit lone-wolf terrorists to launch their own attacks.

The articles focusing on China could be part of al-Qaeda’s attempts to regain some authority, as attention has shifted towards ISIL, also called ISIS or the Islamic State.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, called for revenge against several countries including China in July 2014, and his speech made the rounds in the news in early August, according to Foreign Policy.

Baghdadi allegedly said “Muslim rights are forcibly seized in China, India, Palestine.” Chinese media were also circulating a map with unconfirmed origins, which allegedly shows countries ISIL plans to conquer over the next five years. It includes Xinjiang.

As Foreign Policy notes, threats against China from terrorist groups “may constitute a welcome opening for Chinese authorities.” The Chinese regime may, it says, use the threats to help legitimize its suppression of Muslims in Xinjiang.

“In any case, Beijing is likely alarmed by IS’s criticism of its treatment of the Muslim Uyghurs and the group’s alleged plan to seize Xinjiang, no matter how far-fetched the idea might be,” states Foreign Policy. “But just how actively authorities will deal with any [ISIL] threat remains to be seen.”

Source: The Epoch Times.

Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/1043863-al-qaeda-calls-for-caliphate-in-chinas-xinjiang/.

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