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Uyghur News
05-08-08, 20:39
Jihadists intent on year of mourning, Chinese say
· Separatists 'planning more attacks during Olympics'
· Uighur activist criticises round-up after police die

* Jonathan Watts in Kashgar
* The Guardian,
* Wednesday August 6 2008


A soldier checks traffic after the raid in Kashgar, Xinjiang. One of the attackers was a taxi driver. Photograph: Dan Chung

The two assailants behind China's deadliest militant assault in a decade were Islamic jihadists intent on turning 2008 into "a year of mourning" for the Olympic host, the authorities claimed today.

Describing yesterday's killing of 16 police in Kashgar as part of a well-plotted and long-planned attack, the local communist party chief Shi Dagang vowed to fight back against separatist forces who he accused of plotting "monthly major events" until the end of the Olympics.

He said two local men from the Uighur ethnic group - named as Kebanyan Ahmet and Abdul Rahman - had confessed to carjacking a truck, then running it at high speed into a group of paramilitary police out jogging. They then lobbed homemade bombs at the survivors and finished off others with knives. In addition to the deaths, 16 police were injured. Two remain in a critical condition.

One suspect lost an arm in an explosion. Police said they later found nine unused bombs, two knives, two daggers, a gun and a letter among the possessions of the assailants. In the letter, the attackers - one a vegetable seller, the other a taxi driver - reportedly stated that religious beliefs were more important than their own lives or their wives or their mothers so they would devote themselves to jihad.

No evidence was presented to directly link the two men to separatist Uighur groups who want to create an "East Turkestan" homeland in Xinjiang, the westernmost region of China bordering Pakistan, Afghanistan and several other central Asian nations. Foreign civil rights groups and overseass Uighur organisations said it was far from certain that the killings marked an escalation from the sporadic, small-scale and unsophisticated attacks that have plagued the region for more than 20 years.

But Shi said the attack came at a time when East Turkestan groups at home and abroad were using the internet to plot attacks on the Beijing Games and spread information about bomb-making and chemical warfare. "Their aim is to use simple means to attack the Chinese government and to turn 2008 into a year of mourning," he said, naming three organisations: the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the East Turkestan Liberation Organisation and the East Turkestan Independent Movement.

Amid concerns that more attacks may come before the Games, police set up checkpoints around the Silk Road city, 3,000 miles west of Beijing, while riot police ringed the hospital where the injured officers were being treated.

Several locals said they faced extra identity-card checks and door-to-door inspections. The colourful main bazaar was closed early and traders were forbidden from praying at their workplace. Stallholders said they were scared to talk about the incident or their feelings towards Chinese rule. "It is dangerous to discuss such things," said a spice seller. "One wrong word and you can end up in prison."

Among a dozen or so people approached by the Guardian, more than half said their lives have improved in the past five years thanks to China's economic growth, but others expressed frustration at controls on Islam. "There is no religious freedom," said a student. "I can only wear a long dress and headscarf at home because it is forbidden at my university." Teachers in public schools are dismissed if they grow beards, seen as a sign of religious belief.

At the Idkah Mosque in the main square, the authorities have posted up a sign warning worshippers that they are committing a crime if they visit Mecca as individuals, rather than going on a tour organised by the state-affiliated religious organisations. "Organised and planned prayer is national policy," begins the document. "Muslim citizens should not believe the lies of those who want to organise illegal trips." Since the start of this year, the authorities say they have arrested 18 criminals who were trained overseas.

Some Uighurs fear cultural assimilation and the plunder of their oil and minerals resources by the Han ethnic group, which makes up the vast majority elsewhere in China. Since the communist party took power in 1949, Han settlers and their families have gone from being less than a tenth of the Xinjiang population to more than half. "Even small children tell me Xinjiang belongs to the Uighurs so I should go back to China," says one Han taxi driver, who was born in Kashgar.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uighur Congress, said the government had rounded up many Uighurs in Kashgar following the attack. His claim could not be confirmed. But the authorities were heavy handed in dealing with some foreign journalists. Police forcibly removed two Japanese reporters from a street, beat them and damaged their equipment.

Chinese say Islamic Jihadists are intent on turning 2008 into 'year of mourning'
This article appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday August 06 2008 on p14 of the International section. It was last updated at 01:00 on August 06 2008.

* guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008