No sooner had President Barack Obama ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prisoner within a year than on Jan. 22, Beijing demanded the early repatriation of 17 Chinese Uighurs from the far western province of Xinjiang.
The Obama administration reacted immediately with a refusal to return Muslim Uighurs to a country where they face certain persecution. “I cannot imagine that we would support transferring the Uighurs back to China,” said a senior administration official.
Beijing holds the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) responsible for bomb attacks in Xinjiang, where Muslim Uighars make up half of the province's 20.5 million people, according to official figures. More than 100 people were arrested there before the Beijing Olympic Games last year, accused of plotting terrorist attacks to disrupt the event.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's experts on al Qaeda report that the exchange between Beijing and Washington takes place against the background of a revival of ETIM activity in China. Al Qaeda's Internet sites have begun featuring canonic edicts penned by an ETIM leader who goes by the code name of Sheikh Bashir. He says China is an enemy of the Muslims for robbing them of their lands and the natural resources of Xinjiang and calls on Muslims to declare a jihad on China. Although the Chinese are neither Christians nor Jews, they are nonetheless, in Sheikh Bashir's view, infidels who must be converted to the true faith.
Never for one moment does ETIM forget the might and numerical preponderance of the Chinese people, he writes, but this is no argument against a holy war. All that is needed is more careful and shrewd preparation for this jihad. After all, Sheikh Bashir goes on to argue, al Qaeda fought the American and European Crusaders whose military technology and might are more lethal and brutal than those of China. Those who did not shrink from America need have no fear of China.
Other al Qaeda publications speak of terrorist attacks carried out by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement in the last six months. They include blowing up a Shanghai bus in May 2008, a suicide attack on a police station in Vanju on May 17, an explosion at a plastic factory in Dondong on July 17 and, two days later, a bombing attack on three buses in Yunnan.
Chinese authorities blame ETIM and other separatist groups for more than 200 terrorist attacks since 1990, causing 162 deaths. Regarding ETIM and similar groups as a threat to its territorial integrity, Beijing cracked down harshly on the Uighars of Xinjiang after al Qaeda's attacks in America of Sept. 11, 2001.
ETIM has been listed as a terrorist organization by the United States followed by the United Nations which cited its association with Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
ETIM cells are believed to be active also in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.