Muslim militant group claims western China attacks

September 8, 2011 - 3:10 AM

BEIJING (AP) — A militant Muslim group has released a new video claiming responsibility for recent attacks in western China that killed at least three dozen people, a U.S. group that monitors such organizations said this week.

The video was purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party, which seeks independence for China's western Xinjiang region, the SITE Intelligence Group said. The militants are believed to be based in Pakistan, where security experts say core members have received training from al-Qaida.

Xinjiang is home to largely Muslim ethnic Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gur) who say an influx of China's majority Han to the region has led to their marginalization. The region erupted in violence two years ago with ethnic riots in which at least 197 people were killed.

Since then security in the region has been stepped up, but that wasn't enough to prevent violence in the cities of Hotan and Kashgar in July that left dozens dead in a spree of slashings, arson and hit-and-run attacks.

The more than 10-minute video released in late August features Turkistan Islamic Party leader Abdul Shakoor Damla, whose face is blotted out, saying those attacks were revenge against the Chinese government.

Ben Venzke, of Washington-based IntelCenter, another agency that monitors militant groups, said the group had threatened to attack the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and should be taken seriously.

"Their profile has been heightened since threats made during the Olympics and videos have shown us that they have even received recognition from senior al-Qaeda leaders recognizing their presence in China," Venzke said.

In 2008, TIP released videos claiming responsibility for several bus bombings in China and warned Muslims to stay away from any place Han Chinese were, including buses, planes, buildings and trains.

"TIP is a very real jihadist group and their threats should be taken seriously. In addition to being active in China, we also have seen videos of them conducting operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said.

The latest video shows a brief biography and footage of what it says is Memtieli Tiliwaldi wrestling with other fighters in a TIP training camp. Police in the region had identified Tiliwaldi as a suspect in the July attacks, and said they fatally shot him in a corn field a couple of days later.

In the video, group leader Damla speaks in the Turkic language of the Uighurs, who have with a long history of tense relations with the central government.

Militant Uighurs have for decades been fighting a low-level insurgency to gain independence for lightly populated but resource-rich Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and several unstable Central Asian states.

Beijing blames the violence on militants based overseas, specifically ones from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement who it says trained in militant camps in Pakistan. While some terrorism experts say ETIM is affiliated with the Turkistan Islamic Party, others say they are part of the same group operating under different names.

Uighur activists and security analysts blame the violence on economic marginalization and restrictions on Uighur culture and the Muslim religion that are breeding frustration and anger among young Uighurs.

China's leaders say all ethnic groups are treated equally and point to the billions of dollars in investment that has modernized Xinjiang.

Chinese officials said last week they recently thwarted several plots by separatists, religious extremists and terrorists to sabotage an international trade fair in the region.

Xinjiang is currently under a two-month crackdown against violence, terrorism and radical Islam following renewed unrest among Uighurs in July.

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