Thursday, October 08, 2009

Al-Qaida in China

The Jerusalem Post recently reported that al Qaeda appears to have assessed itself strong enough to take on the Chinese in Xinjiang.

Al Qaida spokesmen announced on Thursday that the organization's militants would soon begin to work towards "freeing their Muslim country," referring to China.

They stated that would specifically target the Asian republic's Muslim-dominated "East Turkestan" region, in what is today Xinjiang.

"our Muslim brethren in Turkestan must know that the only way to be rid of the oppression and exploitation [of Muslims in China] … is Jihad," was the message Al Qaida wished to convey to adherents of Islam in the region.

The fundamentalist organization said in a series of videos that it planned to re-educate a new generation of Chinese Muslims "whose forefathers were not allowed to read the Kuran." Al-Qaida wages war on China: 'Jihad is the only way', Jerusalem Post, Oct. 9, 2009.

The report is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it suggests the success of Chinese responses to the ethnic and religious riots that destabilized portions of Xinjiang in July. "China’s fears about international Islamic militants getting excited over the Xinjiang problem came true with a prominent Al-Qaida leader threatening to attack Chinese targets in "reprisal" for the July 5 riots in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjian.

Abu Yahya al-Libi, the Al-Qaida leader, has urged the Muslim Uygur population in Xinjiang to make "serious preparation for jihad in the path of God the Almighty". He said in a video posted on an Islamist website that Uyghur should carry weapons and opt for "a true return to their religion.'" Al-Qaida leader orders reprisals against Chinese targets for Urumqi riots, The Times of India, Oct. 8, 2009.
It also suggests that al Qaeda means to test its alliances within Pakistan. That is particularly important in connection with American and Chinese efforts to enlist the Pakistanis for their respective internal and external policy objectives. "China has gone to great lengths and even enlisted Pakistan’s assistance to get Muslim nations and organisations accept its version of the July 5 riots in Urumqi. It seemed to have earned a measure of success when neighboring Turkey came out in support of Beijing after initially protesting against the treatment of Uygurs. But the latest diktat from the Al-Qaeda leader shows that the issue is very much on the radar of Islamic militants and behind-the-scene lobbying by China’s friends and allies have had limited effect. Yahya al-Libi has also tried to expand the scope of the issue by asking the Muslim world to "support them (the Uygurs) with all they can". " Al-Qaida leader orders reprisals against Chinese targets for Urumqi riots, The Times of India, Oct. 8, 2009. For the Americans, the pressure from al Qaida might suggest a basis for the extensive opposition in Pakistan to the conditions attached to the $1.5 aid package--an opposition that might bring down the civilian government of Pakistan. See, Khalid Qayum, Pakistan’s Army Issues Rare Criticism of U.S. Aid Conditions,, Oct. 7, 2009 ("Pakistan’s military is concerned about aid conditions including the requirement to demonstrate how effective the government’s control over the military is, oversight and approval of defense budgets, chains of command, promotions of senior commanders and civilian involvement in strategic planning, Dawn newspaper said in a report today. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army, who met his top commanders today, has conveyed his concerns about the bill to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the News newspaper reported today. " Id.).

Third, it indicates that al Qaeda thinks that it might profit from attacking China in its home territory to greater effect than previous attacks on Chinese nationals in the Middle East. "Al-Qaida's Algerian-based offshoot, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a call for "reprisals" in mid-July. At that time, AQIM pledged to target the 50,000 Chinese workers in Algeria as well as Chinese projects and workers across northwest Africa, according to the London-based international consultancy Stirling Assynt. This prompted the Chinese embassy in Algeria to issue a statement urging Chinese organizations and citizens in Algeria to be on alert. " Al-Qaida leader orders reprisals against Chinese targets for Urumqi riots, The Times of India, Oct. 8, 2009. It appears that al Qaida allies have already started testing the vulnerability of China to attacks in its heartland. "Another group calling itself the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) had urged Muslims to attack Chinese interests worldwide in August. TIP claimed it had carried out the bombing of two public buses in Shanghai in May last year. " Id.

The Chinese view this latest announcement as an advantage. One media report explained the logic nicely:
The 9-11 terrorist attack deprived Islamic extremists of any sympathy from people around the world. Almost all of the countries and governments vowed that they were against any form of terrorism.

Al-Qaida expressed its support for the Uighur separatists, which made it quite difficult for western countries to blame the Chinese government over the July 5 riot. After all, people around the world will align together when it comes to facing terrorist activities. This will surely win some diplomatic room for the Chinese government in dealing with the riot in Xinjiang. He Liangliang, Al-Qaida support a kiss of death for Uighur separatists,, July 16, 2009

On the other hand, while the Chinese analysis might be truew for state support of independent for Xinjiang among Western states, the al Qaeda efforts may serve to provide greater support for clandestine efforts in the region.

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