Muslim militant group claims western China attacks

BEIJING (AP) — A militant Muslim group claimed by video it carried out recent attacks in western China that killed at least three dozen people, a monitoring group said.

The video was purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party, which seeks independence for China's western Xinjiang region, the SITE Intelligence Group said this week. The militants are believed to be based in Pakistan, where security experts say core members have been trained by al-Qaida.

Xinjiang is home to largely Muslim ethnic Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gur) who say they have been marginalized by an influx of China's majority Han to the region. Ethnic riots there two years ago killed at least 197 people.

Security has been raised, but still, dozens were killed in slashings and arson and hit-and-run attacks in the cities of Hotan and Kashgar in July.

The more than 10-minute video released in late August features Turkistan Islamic Party leader Abdul Shakoor Damla, whose face is blotted out, saying those attacks were revenge against the Chinese government.

Ben Venzke, of Washington-based IntelCenter, another monitor of militant groups, said TIP threatened to attack the 2008 Beijing Olympics and should be taken seriously.

"Their profile has been heightened since threats made during the Olympics and videos have shown us that they have even received recognition from senior al-Qaeda leaders recognizing their presence in China," Venzke said.

In 2008, TIP released videos claiming responsibility for several bus bombings in China and warned Muslims to stay away from any place Han Chinese were, including buses, planes, buildings and trains.

"TIP is a very real jihadist group and their threats should be taken seriously. In addition to being active in China, we also have seen videos of them conducting operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Venzke said.

The latest video shows a brief biography and footage of what it says is Memtieli Tiliwaldi wrestling with other fighters in a TIP training camp. Xinjiang police had identified Tiliwaldi as a suspect in the July attacks and said they fatally shot him in a corn field days later.

In the video, group leader Damla speaks in the Turkic language of the Uighurs, who have with a long history of tense relations with the central government.

Militant Uighurs have for decades been fighting a low-level insurgency to gain independence for lightly populated but resource-rich Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and several unstable Central Asian states.

Beijing blames the violence on militants based overseas, specifically from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, but has not revealed much of the evidence behind its suspicions. Some terrorism experts say ETIM and TIM are affiliated, while others say it is one group operating under different names.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said he had no information on the video and claims.

He repeated China's assertion that Xinjiang separatists are carrying out "rampant, violent terrorist activities within China's border, which seriously undermine China's national unity and regional peace and stability."

Liu said China was willing to join and strengthen international efforts to combat terrorism.

Uighur activists and security analysts blame the violence on economic marginalization and restrictions on Uighur culture and the Muslim religion that are breeding frustration and anger among young Uighurs.

China's leaders say all ethnic groups are treated equally and point to the billions of dollars in investment that has modernized Xinjiang.

Chinese officials said last week they recently thwarted several plots by separatists, religious extremists and terrorists to sabotage an international trade fair in the region.

Xinjiang is currently under a two-month crackdown against violence, terrorism and radical Islam following renewed unrest among Uighurs in July.

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Follow Chi-Chi Zhang at https://twitter.com/thunderchi

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