Dr. Walid Phares

www.walidphares.com

China discovers al Qaeda in its backyard
By Walid Phares

August 7, 2008

In a video accusing China’s Communist Government of “mistreating Muslims” a Jihadi group threatened to attack the Summer Games in Beijin. A spokesman of the Turkistan Islamic Party accuses China of “forcing Muslims into atheism and destroying Islamic schools. The “Turkistan Islamic Party” is most likely based across the border in Pakistan, where sources affirm it received training from Al Qaeda.

Weeks ago the organization claimed responsibility for a bombings across the country. The latest video shows graphics of a burning Olympics logo and explosions. This week, attackers killed 16 police and wounded more than a dozen in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar using homemade bombs.

But according to AP reports few months ago, Chinese Police broke up a terror plot targeting the Beijing Olympics while a flight crew foiled attempt to crash a Chinese plane. Per Communist Party officials in the North Western province of Xinjiang, materials seized in a January 27 raid in the regional capital, Urumqi, suggested the plotters' planned "specifically to sabotage the staging of the Beijing Olympics." Earlier reports said police found guns, homemade bombs, training materials and "extremist religious ideological materials" during the January raid in Urumqi, in which two members of the gang were killed and 15 arrested. The immediate question becomes: Is China targeted by a Terror organization? And since the material found was characterized as “extremist religious ideological”, does that mean it is al Qaeda or one of its affiliate? The answer to these questions could change the face of geopolitics in Asia.

Interestingly the Associated Press runs to frame the Terrorists to a local ethnic conflict in one of China’s Western provinces. AP wrote: “Chinese forces have for years been battling a low-intensity separatist movement among Xinjiang's Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim people who are culturally and ethnically distinct from China's Han majority.” The news agency has tried to set the agenda of the debate by scoring three points for the “radicals.” They are separatists, they are representative of a local ethnicity and they are Muslim. In addition the description of the struggle is informative: Chinese forces versus a Uighur movement. In a way a parallel to Kosovo, Chechnya and Kashmir with two projected effects. As framed by AP, the struggle of these “Terrorists” is indeed legitimate even though the means are violent. But is it the case?

Evidently the Chinese Communists are repressive against all other minorities and political dissidents. But as in Russia and India’s Wahabi cases, one would investigate if these particular Terrorists in China are local patriotic elements with liberal outlook. Not really. As under the Russians in Chechnya it looks like the Communists in China are battling another form of totalitarianism to come: Jihadism.

Chinese officials said the group had been trained by and was following the orders of a radical group based in Pakistan and Afghanistan called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM. The group has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the United States. East Turkestan is another name for Xinjiang. So the “movement” is indeed Terrorist-identified by the international community. But other than its violent means, is that group linked to al Qaeda? There is a double answer to this question. First the group is indeed Jihadi Wahabi-Salafi as its long term objective is to separate a particular province from China but only to establish an Emirate, a prelude to join the world Caliphate. Hence ideologically it is part of the world web of internationalist Jihadis, who identify with Bin Laden’s school of thought. Second in many instances, al Qaeda produced material showing Chinese Jihadists training in their camps. In the chat rooms, the Salafi commentators often cite the presence of “brothers” from the Xinjiang. And let’s remind ourselves that upon the fall of Tora Bora in 2001, Chinese officials asked US military to extradite Chinese nationals who we part of the Taliban and al Qaeda networks in Afghanistan. So the bottom line is that the Bin Laden cohorts included Jihadis recruited from inside China’s Western province. As in Chechnya a local ethnic separatist claim exists but the struggle was hijacked by the Jihadi terror forces.

Hence as China is discovering al Qaeda in its own backyard, this begs powerful questions:

1. If these Jihadists will escalate their Terror against Chinese cities and installations -and the recent discoveries indicate this trend- will Beijing find itself in the same trench as Washington that is against al Qaeda and the Salafists?

2. And if that becomes the case, will China continue to pursue a policy of support to other Jihadist forces, including the Islamist regime in Khartoum?

3. If Communism and Jihadism clash again in the 21st century inside the Asian superpower, will its resources rich Western province becomes a new Afghanistan with Jihadists converging from central Asia and other parts f the world?

For now Chinese officials are downplaying the danger altogether and dismissing the threat: "Those in Xinjiang pursuing separatism and sabotage are an extremely small number,” said a pro Government Uighur leader. “They may be Uighurs, but they can't represent Uighurs. They are the scum of the Uighurs," regional communist official Bekri said. But that is what Russian officials always said about Chechnya and their Indian counterparts argued about Kashmir. Jihadism has demonstrated that its adherents can swiftly recruit and expand, especially if international Wahabis are generous and committed. Hence the answer to this critical new “Jihad” will come from as far as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia but also from the smaller principality of Qatar, where al Jazeera can transform a local separatist movement into an uprising in the name of the Umma.

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Dr Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy. He is the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad

http://counterterrorismblog.org/2008/08/china_discovers_al_qaeda_in_it.php