Zhang Chunxian, Party chief of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, at the 12th National People’s Congress on March 10.
A top official from Xinjiang confirmed yesterday that an undisclosed number of people from the restive region had joined the extremist militant group Islamic State to fight in Syria and planned “terror activities” upon their return to Xinjiang.
Party chief Zhang Chunxian said in a press conference during the annual National People’s Congress session on Tuesday that Xinjiang residents had crossed the border illegally to join IS and that “We recently broke up a terrorist cell run by those who returned from fighting with the group”.
“The militant group has big influence around the world and Xinjiang has also been affected,” Zhang said.
In February, a Global Times report cited an unnamed Kurdish security official who said that IS killed three Chinese deserters who’d belonged to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The Chinese government has blamed Uyghur separatists from ETIM for carrying out several deadly attacks in Xinjiang in recent years.
In September, Iraq claimed that its soldiers captured an IS militant from China and posted photos of the alleged fighter with a battered, bloodied face.
The Global Times estimated in December that around 300 Chinese extremists were fighting with IS. Chinese authorities last year reportedly arrested some of those who attempted to cross the border illegally to fight with extremist groups.
Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, said yesterday that “A number of violent terrorist attacks had been thwarted while they were still in embryonic stages” but that “The overall situation in Xinjiang is stable and controllable”.
He then said that villagers in rural areas of Xinjiang were more ‘prone’ to extremist thinking because they can’t speak Mandarin.
“Many villagers in southern Xinjiang still cannot speak the national common language, which has affected their employment chances. They are also more easily manipulated if they live in closed communities,” he said.
[Image via Global Times]