Fighting terrorism a long-term challenge for China

( Xinhua ) Updated: 2013-11-26 19:34:27

BEIJING - The East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) claimed responsibility for last month's Tian'anmen attack in which five people were killed and 40 others injured, according to an eight-minute audio clip obtained by a US-based Internet monitoring organization at the weekend.

The radical Islamist group, identified by the United Nations as a terrorist group, also warned of future attacks, including one at the Great Hall of the People, where the Communist Party of China (CPC) holds many of its high-level meetings, according to the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute, a website which monitors jihadist forums.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Monday at a regular press briefing that "this fully exposes the terrorist essence of this organization and it also allows those people who recently doubted the nature of the incident to clearly see the truth."

Qin said the Chinese government would "continue the assault" on the group.

"The ETIM has incited, organized and committed terrorist attacks of various forms in China over the years and spread the ideas of violence and terrorism. It has been the most direct and real threat to our security, and has damaged the security of other countries and regions," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a press briefing earlier this month.

The attack in Tian'anmen, an iconic place in Beijing with high-level security, shows that terrorism can happen anywhere in the country.

"The Tian'anmen attack shows that the violence and terrorist activities have crossed the border of Xinjiang and the terrorists are aiming to cause bigger fear among people," said Yang Shu, head of the Central Asian Studies Institute of Lanzhou University.

The establishment of a national security commission, which was agreed at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee two weeks ago, shows the Chinese government's resolve to deal with the challenges concerning its national security and stability.


In most Chinese people's mind, especially for those living in inland provinces, terrorism is something that happens overseas and is far away from them. The Tian'anmen attack has given them a sober warning.

"An obvious feature of modern terrorism is civilian participation," said Mei Jianmin, a counter-terrorism expert with the People's Public Security University of China.

"They become terrorists with weapons in hand. They appear to be common people when they put down their weapons and it's hard to identify them," said Mei.

"It is easy for them to flee hither and thither as transportation is convenient nowadays," he added.

Chinese police have identified the suspects in the Tian'anmen attack as Usmen Hasan, his mother Kuwanhan Reyim and his wife Gulkiz Gini, all from the far western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, more than 3,000 kilometers from Beijing.

They drove a jeep with a Xinjiang license plate into a crowd of people at noon on October 28, killing two people and injuring another 40. The jeep crashed into a guardrail of Jinshui Bridge across the moat of the Forbidden City. The three people in the jeep died after they set gasoline inside the vehicle on fire, according to police.

Terrorists are constantly changing their ways of carrying out attacks as China has strict controls over guns and other hazardous articles, said Li Wei, a counter-terrorism expert with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

"The terrorists mainly used hacking knives in the attacks in Shanshan County and Hotan City earlier this year while they used an SUV and gasoline in the Beijing attack," said Li. "The change of tactics has led to anti-terrorism difficulties."


The "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism have been increasing their penetration into Xinjiang, a remote region with more than half of its population ethnic minorities with a Muslim belief.

The infiltration of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism into Xinjiang is threatening the region's social stability and economic and social development.

ETIM, together with other groups, are propagandizing religious extremism in Xinjiang and instigating ethnic hatred in order to seek independence.

South Xinjiang's Hotan, Kashgar and Aksu are areas overseas separatism forces intend to penetrate most, where the majority of the population are Muslim Uygurs.

Illegal religious activities have been rampant in these areas, which has caused a strong religious environment, an imam said on condition of anonymity.

More Uygur women wear black Islamic robes instead of their traditional colorful Uygur costumes. Alcoholic drinks are banned in shops in some areas otherwise owners will face attacks, as Xinhua reporters have discovered in recent years.

Violent terrorist attacks in the name of "jihad" have been increasing since 2009 and have become the biggest threat to the region. Some 190 terrorist attacks were recorded in Xinjiang in 2012, increasing by a significant margin from 2011, according to the regional public security department.

Most of the attackers were in their 20s or early 30s. They acted in small groups or individually as "a lone wolf." More than 95 percent of them have not graduated from middle school, according to the department.

With the rapid development of the Internet, crimes such as spreading religious extremism online, instigating terrorist attacks and fabricating rumors are also on the rise in Xinjiang and undermining stability in the region.

A total of 256 people suspected of spreading rumors and 139 people accused of spreading jihad were caught by police within two months after the terrorist attack in Shanshan County on June 26 when 24 people, including two police officers, were killed, according to the department.


Analysts have called for an overall solution to tackle terrorist threats. The establishment of a national security commission is a right step forward, but more still needs to be done.

The building of an anti-terrorism information network with sound intelligence gathering and judgment is key to prevent attacks, said Li Wei.

Early discovery and early warning is key to handle terrorist threats, said Li.

An anti-terrorism law at state level will also help beef up efforts, he said.

"Solving various kinds of social problems should also be included in the framework of anti-terrorism efforts," he said. "Social problems should never be used as excuses by terrorists to recruit members."

Xinjiang lags behind other provinces and faces challenges in capital, technology, skills, talent and management. Many Uygurs in south Xinjiang suffer from poverty and high unemployment.

In March 2010, the Chinese government initiated a "pairing assistance" program to support Xinjiang in building new infrastructures and promoting local industries. More than 4,000 officials and experts from 19 relatively-prosperous provinces and municipalities are contributing to the development of the poor vast western land.

Terrorism is not just a domestic issue. International support to East Turkistan separatism forces and the west's indulgence towards them with double standards are challenges we have to face, said Li.

"We have to realize that anti-terrorism is a long-term and complicated cause and will not be settled in a short period of time," he said. "It needs the overall efforts of the whole country, and even the whole world."

Liu Zhongkang, deputy head of the Xinjiang Regional Academy of Social Sciences, proposed that China strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation with the international community and reduce the space for the "three evil forces" to develop.

Liu also proposed research into the root causes of religious extremism in Xinjiang and a strategic plan to safeguard long-term stability and development in Xinjiang.

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