China warns of Muslim terrorist threat ahead of Olympics

BEIJING (AFP) — China insisted on Thursday it faced a serious terror threat in its Muslim-majority far northwest ahead of the Olympics, as it announced 82 “suspected terrorists” had been detained there this year.

The 82 belonged to five groups that “allegedly plotted sabotage against the Beijing Olympics,” the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the police chief in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang region that borders Central Asia.

It was the first time that Chinese officials had given a total number of suspects detained in a series of previously reported raids this year.

The announcement came a day after state press said police shot dead five knife-wielding Muslims and detained 10 others in Urumqi who allegedly wanted to launch a “holy war”.

Urumqi police chief Chen Zhuangwei said 41 illegal places of worship in Xinjiang had been closed this year because they were training grounds for “holy war”.

“From now, all police officers must act urgently, get involved once more in Olympic security, to make sure large and small incidents alike do not happen,” Chen said, according to the Xinjiang Daily newspaper.

Exiled members of Xinjiang’s Turkic-speaking Uighur population have repeatedly denied that a major terrorist threat exists in the region.

They have accused the Chinese government of exaggerating or fabricating the threat as an excuse to crack down on all forms of dissent ahead of next month’s Games.

Xinjiang is a vast region of deserts and stunning mountain ranges that is home to more than eight million Uighurs who have long complained about repression under six decades of Chinese control.

But in Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao was adamant that that terrorism in Xinjiang was a genuine threat.

“I would like to stress that there are terrorist activities in Xinjiang, and when it comes to counter-terrorism, the Chinese government’s attitude is very solid,” Liu told a press briefing on Thursday.

“The public security authorities, in dealing with these terrorist organisations, have taken some actions against them, and the facts prove that in this region, there are terrorist groups engaging in terrorist activities.”

China said in April it had crushed a group in Xinjiang that was plotting to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and athletes during the Olympics.

In another case, police in Urumqi said they broke up a group in January whose leaders were planning to stage attacks in Beijing and Shanghai with toxic materials and explosives.

In the Tuesday incident that left five people dead, police raided an apartment hide-out in Urumqi and started shooting after the alleged terrorists were seen brandishing knives, Xinhua reported.

According to the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, an exile group that advocates creating an independent East Turkestan in Xinjiang, the five were not radical elements, and were unarmed.

“They were demanding political freedom, and calling for human rights,” spokesman Dilxat Raxit told AFP after having talked to his contacts in Urumqi.

“After they were killed, the Chinese government said they were radical elements because they did not want international condemnation,” he said.

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