The danger of the Takfiri terrorist groups, including the ISIL, is no longer limited to Iraq and Syria as reports and statements released by the terrorist group show China is one of the top 20 targets of the Wahhabi terrorists to establish their “Islamic Caliphate”.
One of the most famous poems read by the Chinese terrorists reads: China is ours! Arab land is ours! India is ours! Everything belongs to us!
Abu Hamza al-Turkistani, one of active Wahhabi terrorists in Syria justifies the reason for his migration as: “Defeating the Arrogance in Sham (the Levant), and Defeating the blasphemous leaders in China”.
The danger of the Wahhabi-Takfiri terrorist groups, including the ISIL, is no longer limited to Iraq and Syria now. Reports on the terrorist group have recently revealed that China is one of the 20 countries that the ISIL plans to target soon to establish and spread its so-called Islamic Caliphate.
Figures show that hundreds of Chinese are among the ranks of the Wahhabi terrorist groups in Syria, including the ISIL, the Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham.
This necessitates Beijing to take a more precise and deeper look at the ISL and its imminent danger to China, specially now that the conditions are ripe for the launch of operation of the Wahhabi extremist current in Northwestern China.
In this article, effort has been made to get the readers well acquainted with the most important extremist Wahhabi-Takfiri and Salafi currents in Xinjiang Province in Western China and Eastern Turkistan, known as the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, and their threat to China’s national security.
The ‘Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement’ is one of the most important armed groups that is trying to turn Xinjiang region into an Islamic emirate, as part of the Caliphate claimed by the ISIL, in Eastern Asia after it voiced allegiance to the ISIL terrorist group.
The history of the separatists of Xinjiang region that are from Uighur origin dates back to many years ago, even before the formation of the People’s Republic of China as this region was independent and was annexed to mainland China after the establishment of People’s Republic of China in 1949.
The US strongly supported the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement before the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s due to its political differences with the Eastern Bloc, but later after Washington and Beijing came into terms with each other, the US blacklisted the movement for its link and its supports for and from the Al-Qaeda terrorist group.
Xinjiang (Eastern Turkistan)
The Strategic region of Xinjiang or Eastern Turkistan is located in Western China in an area approximately equal to Iran. This region comprises one-sixth of China and has a population of over 20 million with common borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The region is rich in oil reserves and uranium mines and for the same reason it is of paramount importance to Beijing.
Xinjiang was Iranian land before Mogul and Turk tribes inhabited the region and in an intermingling with local residents the new race of Uighur emerged.
Uighurs speak Uyghur Turkic language. Their handwriting and 35 percent of their words are Persian.
A majority of non-Chinese residents of Xinjiang are Uighurs and Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims account for 56.3 percent of Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang is also house to other ethnic minorities such as the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz.
Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement
China is facing tribal problems in the three regions of Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang. Problems of Tibet and Xinjiang also date to many decades ago and are rather more complicated.
The capital of Xinjiang is Urumqi. Two separatist movements named Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement and Uighur International Congress are active in Xinjiang province.
Although there are no documented reports on the original core that initiated the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, history shows that Japan granted freedom to the Muslims of Eastern Turkistan for changing the balance of power in China after the massacre of the Chinese by the Japanese in November 1933.
Uighurs led by Sabit Damulla Abdulbaki used the opportunity and by uniting the Ottomans established the Eastern Turkistan Islamic state in Kashgar city, but the Uighur government did not last more than three months and fell to the Chinese.
Since the fall of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic State, the Muslims of this region continued their struggles against the central government until 1944 that they earned independence from China’s central government. Their independence lasted until 1949.
In 1949, the Chinese became united with the Russians and occupied Turkistan and annexed it to mainland China again.
During that period, there were 2.3 million Muslims living in Eastern Turkistan region and there were also over 2,000 mosques in the region. During the attack by the Chinese army, hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims were killed and many mosques of the region were destroyed.
Since then the residents of Eastern Turkistan are fighting against China’s central government to regain their independence and they have established Eastern Turkistan Separatist Organization.
Eastern Turkistan Separatist Organization
The Eastern Turkistan Separatist Organization was the most important separatist movement active in Eastern Turkistan that in addition to Eastern Turkistan had branches in Central Asian countries, Turkey and Europe, but they did not run integrated and coordinated operations which resulted in the suspension of its activities until late 1980s and early 1990s when the “Open Door” policies of Beijing and collapse of the former Soviet Union revived the organization.
In 1992, the Eastern Turkistan Organization held a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, with Turkey’s financial support and attended by the representatives of more than 30 active branches of the organization operating in Central Asia, the US, Australia, Pakistan, Germany, Turkey and Switzerland. One of the most important decisions taken in the conference was establishing the Eastern Turkistan State.
Next year, the representative of the organization from Eastern Turkistan and 17 world countries held their second conference in Turkey. In the second conference, they declared the formation of a government-in-exile of Eastern Turkistan with Roza Beik as its prime minister and issued a Declaration of Independence of this region.
During these years and until 1996 different branches of Eastern Turkistan Separatist Organization tried to exert pressure on Beijing by raising the Eastern Turkistan issues at international levels and also by concentrating on human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion rather than emphasizing the religious and Islamic aspects of the movement.
In October 1996, the representatives of Eastern Turkistan Organization held a meeting in Khatian region of Turkistan and declared establishment of a group titled Eastern Turkistan Hezbollah.
Three years later (1999), the US released its first report on the conditions of the residents of Eastern Turkistan and the human rights conditions in the region and its violation by the Chinese government.
Big Powers’ Political Exploitation of Eastern Turkistan
Ever since then, the issue of Eastern Turkistan has become a leverage for the US and the western countries in a bid to exert pressure on Beijing. Accordingly, these countries launched radio and television networks and published newspapers and opened print houses with the common goal of provoking and persuading the residents of the region to promote their activities to ultimately separate from the Chinese government and attain independence.
Until then, the Eastern Turkistan Separatist Organization pursued a peaceful policy vis-à-vis Beijing, but at a conference held in Istanbul, Turkey, in December 1999 that was attended by representatives of the organization from 40 countries it was announced that from then on the organization would pursue an armed policy for establishing an independent state in Eastern Turkistan.
To achieve this objective, the Eastern Turkistan Separatist Organization sent its forces for military training to Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kashmir region and set up over 20 military training bases in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Western Asia to train its leaders, senior members and commanders. With the help and support of the Uighur traders and merchants residing in Saudi Arabia, the organization also purchased a large amount of weapons and military equipment from Saudi Arabia and Arab sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf littoral states
East Turkistan Islamic Movement
East Turkistan Islamic Movement was one of the groups that formed the East Turkistan Separatist Organization. The movement was established by Hasan Mahsum (1946-2003), also known as Abu-Muhammad al-Turkestani, Ashan Sumut, Hasan Makhdoum and Abdu Mohammad, in Kashgar city.
It was in this way that the groups which formed the East Turkistan Separatist Organization were gradually pushed to armed activities and terrorist acts. The most important group of the organization was the East Turkistan Islamic Movement that then opted for armed struggle against the Chinese government; the Movement received vast support by the Al-Qaeda Takfiri terrorist group that was under the leadership of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan at that time.
East Turkistan Islamic Movement’s Relationship with Al-Qaeda, Taliban
Al-Qaeda Leader Osama Bin Laden and master-mind of East Turkistan’s Islamic Movement Ishan Makhzoumi met in 1999. During the meeting, Bin Laden promised that the Taliban would provide financial support for the movement on the condition that it coordinated all its activities and movements with the Taliban.
In February 2001, the senior leaders of the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban met with the leaders of East Turkistan Separatist Organization and reached agreements with them, in addition to the military training of the members of this organization, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders financed all the expenses of the organization except those of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement.
Following that Uzbekistan’s Liberation and Islamist Movement vowed to grant large-scale military, weaponry and communication aids to the groups forming the East Turkistan Separatist Organization.
The Al-Qaeda and the Taliban provided military training for over 1,000 members of the organization in the bases set up for them in Qandahar and Mazr-i-Sharif in Afghanistan. They were sent to china after completing their military training.
It is even said that the Taliban set up special bases for these people that was known as the Chinese base and it had the capacity of accommodating 320 people. The Al-Qaeda and the Taliban had coordinated training of the organization’s militants and they allocated a huge budget for military training of the members of the organization.
As the Chinese intelligence bodies said at the time, most of the military training centers where the members of the East Turkistan Separatist Organization were located in mountainous regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They said that the Chinese security and military forces have arrested over 100 of the organization’s trained militants.
Also the Chinese security sources announced the separatist groups conducted 250 terrorists operations in China which resulted in death and injury of over 600 people.
East Turkistan Islamic Movement and September 11 Attacks
In fact, before the attacks on September 11, 2001, the East Turkistan Separatist Organization was not only supported by the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the western countries led by the US also supported this organization, but after the 9/11 the US labeled the organization and naturally the East Turkistan Islamic Movement as a terrorist group and started prosecuting members.
Since 2002, the East Turkistan Separatist Organization reduced its armed struggle and instead moved towards psychological and media warfare, distributing booklets, penetrating and influencing the main opposition of China’s central government, holding international seminars, conferences and exhibitions, looking for allies and supporters at international levels.
In 2004, these groups announced the formation of the Islamic State in Exile of East Turkistan. The following year (on the threshold of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Xinjiang, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement released a video clip on the Internet which showed a masked person with a gun in his hand swearing to continue the armed struggle.
The clothing of the armed man and the words that he used blatantly showed that the East Turkistan Islamic Movement was taking model from the Al-Qaeda.
Hasan Makhdoum, the founder of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, was arrested in October 1993 by the Chinese intelligence and security services on charges of engagement in terrorist activities. He was later sentenced to three years in jail by the Chinese judiciary.
Makhdoum fled to Afghanistan in 1997 after he was released from prison where he started providing military training to the members of the movement in one of its training centers.
Makhdoum was killed by the Pakistani security forces in 2003 while he was wanted by Chinese intelligence and security services. Tavala Abdul Haq replaced Makhdoum as leader of the movement until he was killed by the Pakistani security forces in 2010, as well.
Main Contributors to the Emergence of Extremist Currents in Xinjiang
Pundits and experts have termed the following factors as the most important reasons for the emergence and formation of radical and extremist currents in Xinjiang region:
1- The extremist policies and sidelining the residents of these regions which intensified the feeling of hared for China’s central government among the Muslims of these regions.
2- The vital importance of this region for Wahhabi groups: Due to its proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Xinjiang region is highly important to the Wahhabi terrorist groups such as the Al-Qaeda and the ISIL as well as the Takfiri and Salafi groups which are active in the Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, specially because the residents of East Turkistan region are Muslims and are the frontline of the fight against global terrorism staged by the US and NATO in the region after September 11, 2001.
3- The importance of the (Xinjiang) region for the West and regional countries: In addition to the importance of the East Turkistan region to the Wahhabi groups and currents, this region is also highly important to the western and the regional countries because the presence of security and stability in the region means control over a main terrorist hub in the world and moving towards uprooting this heinous phenomenon that is posing a grave danger not only to the regional countries, but the entire international community.
4- Economic importance of East Turkistan: Another factor which has made this region of paramount importance the Wahhabi groups, the NATO, regional and western countries is abundant energy resources such as oil, gas and intact uranium and gold mines. Dominating such economic resources of the East Turkistan by any of these groups can play a crucial role in their power play.
It is for the same reasons that although the countries of this region have unfavorable human rights track record, they are still attractive to other countries such as the US as Washington will not accept to ignore a country like Kazakhstan which is the biggest economic power in Central Asia and also the European countries will not overlook a country like Turkmenistan which has abundant gas reserves to supply their needs.
The conflicts between the Wahhabi-Takfiri and Salafi groups and the regional governments erupted with the collapse of the former Soviet Union and appearance of the Central Asian countries with secular backgrounds. Yet, factors such as unfavorable economic conditions and war in Afghanistan and then Chechnya resulted in the emergence and spread of extremist Wahhabi thoughts in these countries.
Although, the Salafi-Takfiri groups formed in the Central Asian region sought to make others believe that they are in pursuit of political goals, the reality was that the main goal of these groups and movements was establishment of an Islamic government in the Central Asia that is stretched from East Turkistan to the Republic of Azerbaijan.
The Forqane valley or precious treasure of Wahhabi-Takfiri extremist groups: Forqane valley region is located between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and it is the main and most important human resource treasure for Wahhabi extremist groups that intend to set up Islamic government in the Central Asia. The most important feature of Forghaneh valley is its high population density, presence of religious extremist tendencies among a majority of residents of this region and being sidelined and ignored by the ruling governments of this region.
Experts warn against Deterioration of Conditions
These factors have made the Central Asian region, including East Turkistan, a bomb that might blow any moment. Pundits and experts of the region warn that the Wahhabi groups and their radical elements are preparing the grounds now to start large-scale military operations soon and given the political, economic and security crises in the region, the threat of the Wahhabi-Takfiri radical currents and groups has grown even more.
Syrian Crisis and Its Help to Wahhabi Extremist Groups in East Asia
Following the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in mid-March 2011, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement like other Wahhabi extremist groups sent its militants to Syria under the title of Jihad and establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the Levant.
The Wahhabi-Takfiri elements of East Turkistan region, the Uighur, have been traveling to Syria as individuals via Turkey which is one of the biggest supporters of the East Turkistan Islamic Movemen; but by increasing their number and gatherings in Syria, they have now turned into one of Syria’s active terrorist groups.
The East Turkistan Solidarity and Training Organization in Istanbul, Turkey, is among the organizations that in addition to the Turkish government, supports the Turkistani Wahhabi militants who are willing to visit Syria and prepares the grounds and meets the needs for their journey.
The main objective of this organization that has been active for quite some years in Turkey is improving the combat capabilities of the Jihadi groups in East Turkistan, stressing that it wants to see the region grow independent from China.
The Most famous anthem of the organization is: “China is for us … Arab land is ours …. India is ours …. Everything belongs to us”.
The Wahhabi Uighurs first joined the Al-Nusra Front as the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria. Some of them also joined Ahrar al-Sham terrorist group and after the ISIL declared existence in Syria, the Wahhabi-Takfiri Uighurs joined this group and now many of them are members of the ISIL. Idlib and Aleppo countryside in Northern and Northwestern Syria due to their closeness to the Turkish borders are the most important regions for their operations.
Abu Hamza al-Turkistani, one of the active Takfiri terrorists in Syria justifies the reason for his migration as: “Defeating the Arrogance in Sham, Defeating the blasphemous leaders in China”.
The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement officially announced in early 2013 that it has established ‘Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement for Helping the People of the Levant’ as a branch of the movement in Syria with the aim of toppling the Syrian government and preparing the grounds for the formation of an Islamic government in Syria.
The most important operations of the Wahhabi Chinese in Syria include capturing the city of Idlib last March in tandem with laying siege on the Shiite-populated towns of Fou’aa and Kafraya in Idlib province, seizing the Shiite towns of Nabl and al-Zahra in Aleppo countryside and occupying Abu al-Zuhour military airport in the western countryside of Idlib.
Military estimates by the Turkish security organization disclose the presence of nearly 1,500 Chinese terrorists in Syria. Meantime, one of the media sites of the Al-Qaeda released photos showing a special unit of the children of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement in operation. The pictures show tens of low-aged Turkistani-Chinese children undergoing military and ideological training.
China’s Worried Look into Future
From what said, one can easily find out about China’s deep concerns about the activities of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement in Syria. Because the movement’s grasp of power in Syria will directly influence its power in East Turkistan region and intensification and expansion of its activities in the region which poses a major threat to China’s national security and stability.
The expansion of Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement’s activities and the extremist Chinese joining the ISIL can bring the two groups closer to each other in the not so remote future and turn into a fatal threat for a country like China that is becoming a superior economic power.
But Beijing’s concerns do not end in here; the Chinese government is also worried about a growing number of Afghans joining the ISIL as the Wahhabi-Takfiri terrorist group’s widespread activities in Afghanistan will threaten its borders, specially in the Xinjiang region. Now that the ISIL has also declared existence in Afghanistan China’s concerns have multiplied. For the same reason, with the start of Russia’s direct military operations within the framework of campaign against terrorism in Syria, Beijing also voiced its support for Russia’s operations and said it might join the anti-ISIL campaign.
It seems that the Chinese government, organizations, decision-makers and intelligence strategists have reached the conclusion that given the historical background of the peaceful activities of the Muslims in Northwestern China and their provocation by the Wahhabi extremists, Beijing is required to lower or restrict relations and strategic cooperation with countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and pave the grounds for investment and propagation of more moderate versions of Islam in the near future.