Al Qaeda has diverted a small but potent force from Iraq to open a new front – in China. In the last two or three weeks, this unit has entered China’s Xinjiang Uygur province. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources have tracked it to the border town of Kushi where the terrorists have been absorbed by the al Qaeda infrastructure of local Uygur Muslim extremist cells.
Their plan of campaign in the first stage is to reach Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai for strikes against US embassies and consulates, American firms operating in China and American tourists.
This al Qaeda group was previously revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 229 on Nov. 11 (A Jihadist Airlift) as having flown out of Baghdad between mid-September and early October, stopping over in Qatar and proceeding to Konduz in northern Afghanistan for special training.
(See DEBKA Exclusive Map Two attached to this article.)
We also reported that American and British military and intelligence officials decided after consultation that the large-scale forces needed to eradicate the Konduz training facility would be hard to muster. They therefore resolved to await events.
Our sources reveal a further reason for their inaction: US intelligence was anxious to find out the destination of the mysterious al Qaeda force as a pointer to where it was heading and its plans.
The American watchers were taken aback when they discovered its itinerary.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that the terrorists slipped north from Konduz into Tajikistan and on to the Kyrgyz section of the strategic Fergana Valley which straddles Central Asia. There, they rendezvoused at two places, Osh and Jalal-Abad close to the Kyrgyz-Uzbekistan border.
(See DEBKA Exclusive Map One attached to this article)
Al Qaeda’s planners took advantage of the chaos prevailing in Kyrgyzstan’s capital. Its army is clearly in no state to deal with a jihadist scheme to use the republic and the Fergana Valley as a jumping-off point for terrorist operations in China and other parts of Central Asia.
Fergana Valley – key to China and Central Asia
The Islamist terrorists were guided from Konduz into Kyrgyzstan by armed men of al Qaeda’s operational arm in Uzbekistan, the MUI, which also has tentacles in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as training camps in the Fergana Valley. The commander of these cells is Tahir Yuldashev, an old comrade of Osama bin Laden who fought alongside him in Afghanistan.
In 2004, Yuldashev returned to Tashkent from the Pakistani badlands of South Waziristan on the Afghan border, where he led battles to fight off American and Pakistani offensives against al Qaeda hideouts and sanctuaries.
Of late, he was assigned to prepare prepared facilities in Osh and Jalal-Abad for the incoming terrorist unit. As payment for this task, he obtained a pledge from the al Qaeda leadership to split off a section of the new strength as reinforcement for his own campaign against Uzbek president Karimov.
The unit from Konduz accordingly divided into two heads – the largest proceeding from Osh into China and fetching up in Kushi, while the second group assembled in Jalal-Abad, turned west and crossed into Uzbekistan to set up base in the Fergana town of Andijon.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, Washington relayed this information to Moscow hoping for action to wipe out the al Qaeda force. The Russian Motorized Rifle Division 201, which is trained in counter-terror warfare, is stationed in Uzbekistan.
To the surprise of the US government, the Russians said they were short of men for fighting al Qaeda, but if Beijing wished to send Chinese troops over to tackle the incoming terrorists, Moscow would not object.
This is the first time Moscow has consented to Chinese military stepping into Central Asia and assuming a role in the war on terror waged in that region.
The Americans drew three conclusions from the Russian response:
- Moscow knew about the US-British decision to avoid a clash with the al Qaeda unit in Konduz, Afghanistan. But the top Russian brass saw no need for haste to “pull American chestnuts out of the fire.”
- The Russians are casting a beady eye on American military movements and the positioning of their bases in Central Asia. The last steps are now afoot to relocate US bases from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan. Moscow is not happy, to put in mildly, with the presence of American troops in Kyrgyzstan, but since they are there, say the Russians, let them take responsibility for security and the war on al Qaeda.
- Moscow’s acquiescence to a Chinese military entry to Central Asia is further evidence of the deepening Russo-Chinese relationship and the close ties between the Russian and Chinese military staffs.
Confusion in Beijing
The skirmishing between Washington, Moscow and Beijing over who should tackle the al Qaeda menace – if anyone – has enabled the Islamist terrorists to move a force across half the globe from Iraq to the Far East unhindered. That force has ended up in the exact destinations assigned by the organization’s strategists – in western China and eastern Uzbekistan.
Beijing was caught totally unprepared by the al Qaeda penetration.
While government officials are doing what they can to draw wraps over the new menacing presence for Chinese cities, military and intelligence leaders are sounding the alarm as loud as they can.
The confusion over the terrorist threat reigning in the Chinese capital was illustrated by an incident eight days ago. On November 9, the Chinese police alerted the US embassy in Beijing to a possible attack by Islamic rebels on luxury hotels throughout China.
The US embassy accordingly advised American visitors to “review their plans” to stay at four- and five-star hotels in China over the coming week.
A sharper notice was issued in the southern Chinese town of Guangzhou of “credible information” that a terrorist threat may exist against official US government facilities in the city. American citizens in south China were advised to remain alert to possible threats.
China’s Ministry of Public Security responded to these warnings, which were obviously sourced in Chinese police circles, with anger.
It issued a statement accusing an unnamed “foreign citizen” of fabricating the so-called attack on four- and five-star hotels in China. The Chinese foreign ministry chipped in with its own comment. “Chinese public security has never issued such a warning for foreigners on the hotel issue,” its spokesman told reporters.
“Chinese hotels are safe!” he added for good measure.
US officials thereupon withdrew their terror alert notice.
However, while Chinese officials are doing their utmost to calm fears that could affect the tourist industry, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources affirm that a terror alert is indeed in force in Chinese cities.