Tuesday, July 29, 2008

China's newest problem?

“Through this blessed jihad in Yunnan, the Turkestan Islamic Party warns China one more time … Our aim is to target the most critical points related to the Olympics. We will try to attack Chinese central cities severely using the tactics that have never been employed.” Thus spoke Commander Seyfullah, the purported leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party, after claiming responsibility in a video last week for three bus bombings in Yunnan earlier this month, along with previous attacks in Shanghai, Wenzhou and Guangzhou.

While there is little information about Seyfullah, the Turkistan Islamic Party is an offshoot of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which intelligence sources say was based in Afghanistan before the US invasion in 2001 and whose leader was killed in 2003. Analysts claim that members of the Turkistan Islamic Party (the group as a whole reportedly has no more than 100 members) may have received training at al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan’s North Western Frontier Province and/or Tribal Areas abutting Afghanistan. Based on the little information available about him to date, Seyfullah appears to be mimicking the tactics of terror group leaders such as the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, with a reliance on recordings to instill fear and attract retaliation — the more indiscriminate the better.

Since the release of the Seyfullah video, Chinese authorities have gone to great lengths to discredit the claims of responsibility, ascribing the blasts to a lone disgruntled gambler and an oil fire. While the credibility of both Seyfullah and Chinese media remains equally in doubt, what really matters is that a “terrorist” organization is seeking to lure Chinese authorities at a time when it is most sensitive, with the Olympic Games just around the corner.

In "Much suffering in store for Uighurs," published today in the Taipei Times, I explore the ramifications this new development will have for ethnic Uighur Chinese.

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