URUMQI/BEIJING: As the casualties rise from the July 5 riot in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, experts have warned that terrorism might be the real driving force behind the violence.
Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna said in a telephone interview with Xinhua on Friday that the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which China alleges instigated the riot, is closely associated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist group that has been labeled by the UN Security Council as well as the Chinese and US governments a terrorist organization.
"There are many sympathizers and supporters of the ETIM in the WUC," said Prof. Gunaratna, who heads the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
"The ETIM is a big threat for the central Asian area. China needs more anti-terror specialists and should improve intelligence work on the ETIM and train more police in counter-terrorism," Gunaratna said.
The nature of the riot, which left at least 197 people dead, has worried China's leaders as the country might facenew terrorist threats.
Gunaratna also suggested that member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) should share terrorism intelligence and make a common terrorist database.
The SCO has said it would enhance cooperation among member states in terms of fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism to maintain peace and stability in the region.
Bolat Nurgaliev, the rotating secretary-general of the inter-governmental organization founded in 2001, told Xinhua the situation in Xinjiang is crucial for the stability of surrounding areas.
"The situation in Xinjiang has considerable influence on the whole of central Asia. The negative effects of the July 5 riot not only are seen in the local area, but also spread to neighboring regions."
Nurgaliev pointed to Xinjiang's abundant oil and gas resources and other materials.
"To take full advantage of such resources, many modern facilities were built there, including the essential crude oil pipelines," he said, implying that such facilities, in addition to people, might become new targets of global terrorism.
The six SCO member states Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia,Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed a series of agreements on fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in June.
To coordinate the armed forces under the framework of the SCO, the member states have engaged in joint anti-terrorism military exercises code-named "Peace Mission" since 2005.
Chinese and Russian armed forces will conduct the third exercise of its kind next week in Russia's Khabarovsk and China's northeast Jilin Province.
Gunaratna said the joint exercise is a good start for the SCO member states and all other countries and regions, especially the United States, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan, should share their terrorism intelligence.
Having received training, weapons, finance and ideology from Al-Qaida, ETIM suicide bombers presented a growing threat both to coalition forces in Afghanistan and to China, said Prof. Gunaratna.
Shortly after the riot, Beijing targeted Rebiya Kadeer, a Uygurwoman who flew to the United States on medical parole in 2005 and is president of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), as the plotter and instigator of the violence.
The separatist group ETIM is driving the hatred and fueling violence among Han and Uygur ethnic groups, Prof. Gunaratna said.
The ETIM leadership, which is located in Waziristan on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, was responsible for a series of bombings in Xinjiang and other areas in China in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics.
The Al-Qaida organization in the Islamic Magherb, the Al-Qaida's north Africa wing known as AQIM, reportedly has threatened for the first time to attack Chinese interests overseasas a revenge for the deaths of Muslims in Xinjiang riot.
A report from Stirling Assynt, an international consultation specializing in terrorism risk analysis, has warned the threat should be taken seriously as other Jihadist wings are likely to follow.
During the annual session of the NPC, China's top legislature, in March last year, flight police and stewardesses foiled an explosion attack in mid-air aboard a passenger plane from Urumqi to Beijing.
The terrorists were later identified to belong to a separatist group that planned to attack Beijing as it hosted the 2008 Olympic Games.
Four days ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games, terrorists drove a vehicle carrying explosives into an armed police squad in Xinjiang's Kashgar. Sixteen were killed and another sixteen were severely injured.
Some Chinese legal experts suggested the government have more effective anti-terror legislation after the Xinjiang riot.
"The nature of the riot has the major characteristics of a typical terrorist attack," said Bo Xiao, director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the Standing Committee of Xinjiang regional People's Congress.
"The rioters have adopted violent measures to realize their political intentions, which caused innocent people's deaths and regional panic," Bo said.
China should establish a special law for counter-terrorism in addition to the current less explicit regulations scattered throughout different laws, he said.
Lin Ping, a legal expert with the procuratorate of Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, said the government should cut terrorist finance channels by establishing a comprehensive mechanism involving financial organizations, enterprises and other organizations.