Tag Archives: Uyghur terrorism

Kunming Train Station Attack Suspects Arrested in Indonesia

Four of the attackers were found guilty following their trial in September 2014.

Four men suspected of planning the 2014 Kunming Train Station attack were arrested this week in Indonesia. According to a report in the Jakarta Post, the Chinese and Indonesian governments agreed to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation in exchange for  information regarding nine Chinese nationals suspected of planning the Kunming terrorist attack. The agreement was signed by the head of the Indonesian  National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) Comr. Gen. Saut Usman and China’s Deputy Public Security Minister Meng Hongwei  in Beijing on Tuesday, February 10.

The terror suspects were reportedly arrested on Monday near Poso, Central Sulawesi Province. Speaking after the signing of the cooperation agreement,Saut, director of the BNPT,  said that only four of the nine suspects were arrested. Of the remaining five, three fled into the Sulawesi jungle, while two others escaped to Malaysia. After being picked up by police, the four suspects initially admitted to being Chinese nationals from Xinjiang, however they later changed their story, saying they were from Turkey. China and Indonesia signed an extradition treaty in 2009 so if it is true that suspects are indeed Chinese nationals, it is likely that they will be soon be sent to China to face charges.

In recent years, more and more Uighurs have fled China through Yunnan and into Southeast Asia. In  March 2014, a group of more than 200 Uighur refugees were found in a Thai human trafficking camp near the Malaysian border and earlier that month more than 60 Uighurs were caught escaping into Malaysia. In both cases, those in question claimed Turkish nationality. In previous cases, Uighurs found immigrating illegally into Cambodia and Malaysia were extradited back to China, where they were imprisoned.

In Chinese media, connections between the suspects and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have been made. According to one story on Sina.com, the four suspects were found with Islamic State paraphernalia, leading some to believe that they have a relation to the terrorist organization.  To date, more than three hundred Chinese nationals have joined the Islamic State, and recent reports say that three Chinese fighters were beheaded earlier this month as punishment for defection.

Though the exact story of their arrival in Sulawesi is murky at the moment,  Saut believes they are indeed from China. “They are believed to have fled to Poso by taking the land route through Myanmar, southern Thailand and Malaysia. From Malaysia, they entered Indonesia through Medan with Turkish passports and they posed as asylum seekers when they were in Medan,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency. According to Saut, the terrorism suspects went to Puncak in Bogor, Java to join a group of people from the Middle East who wanted to go to Poso.

Central Sulawesi has long been one of Indonesia’s most unstable regions. Starting in the late nineties, tensions between the province’s Muslim and Christian communities began to boil over before a spate of violence gripped the province. A series of bus attacks in Poso in 2002 and the beheadings of three teenage girls in 2005 brought a certain notoriety to the region  and to this day it’s known as a hotbed for extremist activity in the Indonesian archipelago.

The timing of the arrests and the signing of the counter terrorism cooperation agreement between the two countries is unlikely to be a coincidence. According to information received from the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing, the suspects’ names were on international terrorist watchlists and it is probable that Indonesian authorities picked them up independent of Chinese involvement. Following their arrests, it is likely that the Indonesian government used the news as a bargaining chip  to get the Chinese to sign the bilateral cooperation agreement. The arrests, being related to such a high-profile case, and the cooperation agreement should be seen as victories for Indonesia, whose relationship with China is growing closer, despite persistent maritime issues.

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Three sentenced to death for Kunming Train Station attack

The Intermediate Court of Kunming has found four defendants guilty of carrying out a deadly knife attack that claimed the lives of 31 civilians and injured 141 in March of this year. Three of the defendants, all men, received the death penalty, while the lone female suspect was sentenced to life in prison.

The one-day trail, held on September 12, lasted only a few hours. Video shows the three men, Iskandar Ehet, Turgun Tohtunyaz and Hasayn Muhammad seated in court with shaved heads, wearing matching blue prison uniforms. They were all found guilty of “premeditated murder and leading and organizing a terrorist group”. The fourth defendant, Patigul Tohti, will spend the rest of her life behind bars after being found guilty of “intentional homicide and joining a terrorist group”.

None of the men on trial participated directly in the train station attack, according to a BBCreport. Instead, they coordinated the assault from afar — making plans beforehand and then directing five of their associates. Court documents made public following the trial say the three men were all captured by police two days before the attacks occurred.

This narrative directly contradicts previous official accounts claiming the suspects were apprehended March 4 following a 36-hour manhunt in Kunming and beyond. It remains unclear when or where the men were actually captured, as no details of their arrests have ever been made public. Conversely, the story surrounding female assailant Tohti has remained consistent since March.

She was arrested following a bloody rampage wherein she and four others indiscriminately stabbed dozens of people who were queueing to buy tickets at the Kunming Train Station. Tohti was eventually subdued by police and arrested, while her four co-conspirators were all reportedly shot dead in a span of 15 seconds by a SWAT team sniper.

The trial in Kunming was uncharacteristically open to the public, and 300 people, including victims and their families, attended the proceedings. Security at the courthouse was increased noticeably, with armed guards posted both inside and outside the courtroom.

China has significantly ramped up law enforcement and ‘anti-terror’ efforts following the bloodshed in Kunming. In many cities around the country, police officers are now permitted to carry sidearms for the first time in decades. Trials involving suspected militants have also increased, and hundreds of people have been jailed for terrorism-related crimes by Xinjiang police as violence escalated over the summer.

This article was written by Patrick Scally and originally published on GoKunming

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The Economics of the Kunming Massacre

In the wake of the Kunming massacre, the mood in Beijing is more choleric than somber. President Xi Jinping immediately announced a nationwide crackdown on terrorism and military troops were rapidly posted at train and bus stations throughout the country. Armored vehicles now patrol Kunming, Xinjiang natives have been told to register themselves at local police stations in Qinghai province and in Guangxi province authorities have asked citizens to report if they see anyone from Xinjiang — anyone at all.

President Xi also issued a gag order on local reporting, with coverage in Kunming Daily and Yunnan Daily provided by Xinhua reporters in Beijing. Meanwhile China Daily featured a front page photograph of President Xi shaking hands with an ethnic Uighur member of the PCC (China’s Senate). But strengthening national unity goes beyond public cries for concord and front page handshakes. It also involves eliminating the perceived cause of the conflict, and the national narrative is that this cause has more to do with nomadism or Islamist ideology than the fact that employment opportunities for Uighur people, even in their homeland province, are dismally inadequate. In 2009 Ilham Tohti, economics professor at Beijing’s Central Nationalities University and an ethnic Uighur, spoke with Radio Free Asia and suggested jobs might be the key to settling unrest.

But rather than address economic pressures, the government continues to focus on Islam as the catalyst. In 2013 police in Xinjiang began harassing women in head scarves and men with beards. Radio Free Asia reported how one man, with no prior record of violence, stabbed a police officer when he was forced to shave. Ehmetjan Niyaz, an intelligence agent with the local security bureau, commented that they had been advised to investigate men with beards. In Xinjiang, that essentially means all Uighur men.

In other words, the more Beijing singles out Muslims as a means of burking separatism, the more separatist Xinjiang Muslims become. Gardner Bovingdon, Professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University and author of The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land, writes “the closure of mosques, supervision and dismissal of clerics, and the prevention of religious practice by the young — has made Islam in Xinjiang more rather than less political”.

Another government strategy has been to manipulate the demographics of the region. Of the 60% of Xinjiang’s population that is not Uighur, Kazakhs constitute 7% with Hui being another 4.5%. The remaining dozen or so minority groups collectively make up 8.5% while the final 40% is entirely ethnic Han. According to Dr Stanley Toops of Miami University, from 1953 to 1964 the presence of ethnic Han rose from 7% to 33%. Since the 1970s, this number has remained stable at around 40%, making it one of the fastest demographic shifts in Chinese history.

In 2007 Gaël Raballand and Agnès Andrésy published an article entitled “Why Should Trade between Central Asia and China Continue to Expand?” In it, the authors describe how the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps, also known as the bingtuan, was created in 1954 to encourage the movement of Han Chinese into the region by creating infrastructure there. In addition to creating an ethnic Han workforce to outnumber local Uighurs, the bingtuan also helps ensure locals remain calm with a security force of more than 120,000 heavily-armed troops. As The Economist points out, propaganda is par for the course:

“A museum in Shihezi, a city in northern Xinjiang controlled by the corps, displays a photograph of members of the bingtuan militia armed with rifles, crouching behind a wall during a 1990 uprising by Uighurs near the city of Kashgar. The militia, says the caption, played an important role in crushing the unrest. Amnesty International, a human-rights group, says 50 Uighurs were killed in the incident, including some who were shot while running away.”

Morris Rossabi, who teaches History at Columbia University, points to the Tang Dynasty as the origin of the bingtuan. Famously cosmopolitan, the Tang Dynasty celebrated the Turkic culture of present-day Xinjiang, staffing its frontier armies with Turkic soldiers and even allowing some, like the great Ashina Se’er, to rise to the rank of Tang general. This helped frontier lands become self-reliant and even afforded some measure of political autonomy. The bingtuan follows this tradition by providing Xinjiang the means for economic self-reliance, yet deviates sharply by staffing its workforce with ethnic Han rather than local Uighurs.

With Xinjiang currently contributing roughly 4% of the nation’s GDP (primarily through oil reserves) as well as Beijing’s Western Development policy, which hopes to see China’s western provinces contribute greatly to the nation’s economy, Uighurs will remain a minority in Xinjiang for the foreseeable future. Dr Ilham Tohti has stated he is not opposed to state-orchestrated migration policies, but that these policies need to be carefully reviewed, pointing that if there are enough jobs to warrant the migration of millions of ethnic Han into the region, then why aren’t there enough jobs for the people already living there?

In 2006 Dr Tohti launched a website promoting understanding between ethnic Han and Uighurs, but in 2009 it was shut down and Dr Tohti was arrested. He was released shortly before President Obama’s visit to Beijing but in January 2014 the BBC reported he had again disappeared, that his family had no knowledge of his whereabouts and that the government was charging him with separatism — a crime punishable by death.

For now, events like the Kunming massacre serve to further Beijing’s program of economic development in Xinjiang by providing carte blanche to those who view ethnic identity as a major roadblock to China’s economic future and by giving Xinjiang politicians an easy scapegoat when they fail to provide economic paths of opportunity.

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The Kunming Train Station Attack: A Hypothesis

In answering the question “Why was Kunming chosen as the site of last Saturday’s attack?”consider the following:

In response to a police crackdown in Hotan, Xinjiang beginning in the summer of 2013, a large group of Uighurs attempted to make their way to Laos through Yunnan. Instead of escaping to Southeast Asia as refugees as planned, thirty were arrested at the border along with dozens of others throughout the province. Warrants were issued for those who were not immediately caught, and a detailed most wanted list was made public. At least eight remained at large and as time passed, hope for the release of their compatriots or relatives and their own escape to a foreign refuge grew smaller. With warrants out for their arrest and a heavy police presence in Xinjiang, returning home was impossible. Without local ID cards, settling down in Yunnan would prove just as difficult. Out of viable options, the group of eight decided to make a brutal last stand, taking out vengeance on the province where their plans failed. Gathering what little resources they could find in Kunming, the group planned to strike where they would be able to cause the most damage. And so on March 1, 2014, five people walked into the Kunming Train Station with knives and terror ensued. Continue reading

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On Xinjiang’s Freedom Struggle and Oppression

Uyghur woman facing a police cordon during protests in Xinjiang in 2009. Photo: REUTERS

Uyghur woman facing a police cordon during protests in Xinjiang in 2009. Photo: REUTERS

I never intended to write a background article on the Xinjiang situation, simply because I feel I’m not nearly an expert on the field. But inevitably, when you’re researching a subject and trying to form an idea, article after article pops up, and important people all over the world voice opinion after opinion. And that’s how it’s suddenly noon and you’re still sitting in your underwear on the couch with your head stuck deep into the internet.

Even though I have become a lot wiser about the Xinjiang issue, I am not in a place to make socio-political analysis. However, this terror attack, this fight for freedom, and this cultural and economic oppression are not confined to Kunming, Xinjiang or China. They are not isolated events. And neither are reactions from the opposite side, which slowly but surely tighten the noose of public opinion around the neck of a culture, a religion and a people until it has been stripped of its humanity and hunting season is declared open to shoot down – verbally or literally – anyone connected with it. It’s easy to draw a few parallels to the intolerant climate in Europe in the 1930′s and the world doesn’t need another such occurrence. With this opinion piece I want to contribute, however little, to halt this mass demonisation.

People have been rightfully pointing out that many western media used quotes (such as CNN, now removed) around terrorism, as if terrorism is some sort of privilege of the West to suffer. Of course, the definition of terrorism is problematic, even the UN hasn’t properly outlined it yet. I would define terrorism as an act of violence with a political motive which, rather than targeting the political bodies it is in conflict with, targets a group of unrelated people in the hope that their fear will cause them to put political pressure on the targeted government. By this definition, the Kunming knife incident is very likely to be a terror attack (very likely, because the attack hasn’t been claimed by anyone, and because the authorities have not made the perpetrators’ identities public yet).

The Washington Post has published an article in which it looks for motives and where it blames Chinese oppression. As terrorism and freedom struggles are a global issue, this comes across as hypocritical. The author probably doesn’t mean it as such, but if you read between the lines, he’s saying that while terrorism in the West is to blame on freedom-hating thugs, terrorism in China is the result of government oppression. In my opinion, naturally only the latter is true and the West ought to learn a lesson from this. It should also apply its China logic to how it judges insurgent groups, and not only in the Muslim world.

That brings me to the next issue: can it simply be blamed on government oppression?

There has been a lot of outrage about the statement of Dilxat Rexit, the head of the World Uyghur Congresswhich strives for Uyghur self-determination. In an e-mailed statement to the New York Times, he said: ”We oppose any form of violence, and we also urge the Chinese government to ease systematic repression. If this incident was really the work of Uyghurs, then I can only say that it may be an extreme act by people who feel they cannot take it anymore.” Some (e.g. Kaiser Kuo on his Facebook page) argue this is basically a defence of the barbaric acts of last Saturday.

Yet what do you expect the head of the World Uyghur Congress to say? He’s the head of an organisation that promotes the cultural and political freedom of Uyghur people all around the world. Do you expect him not to give his take on the motives? And do you not think that he will find those motives rooted in the cultural and violent oppression by the Han in Xinjiang? Do you expect him to merely condemn the attacks without following up with a ‘but’ clause? Of course not, that’s why he’s the leader of the WUC. What he is saying is: “I could see that coming.”

I am for once agreeing with Mao Zedong, in that there is no hatred without a reason. I strongly recommend taking ten minutes to read Chinachange.org’s translation of an opinion piece written by Wang Lixiong (王力雄), Beijing-based political dissident and writer of “My West China, Your East Turkestan” (我的西域,你的东土). In it, the author argues that the problem is political at its core and therefore cannot be solved with economic solutions such as Beijing’s knee-jerk response of ‘developing’ China’s far west.

Mr. Wang writes that Uyghur people in Xinjiang are at a disadvantage on many levels. They often do not speak Mandarin well enough, have their own cultural and religious values and are therefore completely left out of the political process. At the same time, the government is siphoning away Xinjiang’s riches to the east. Social and economic segregation results in Uyghurs only getting the crumbles of a cake that the Han (who are now more or less equal in numbers in Xinjiang) have divided among themselves. The perpetual circle of violence and repression will lead to the ultimate exclusion of Uyghurs from society and, ultimately, to ‘Palestinisation‘ (a word the writer uses to mean the full mobilisation of a people against another). These pariahs will turn to their neighbours Afghanistan or Pakistan for their religious identity. This includes the risk that Uyghur people, who normally adhere a milder strain of Sunni Islam, will be converted to fundamentalists. The comparison to another Palestine or even Chechnya is indeed not far off.

It is easy for us to say something along the lines of “the Muslims are at it again.” It’s an old mantra repeated by ever more people all over the world. Yet I doubt that it’s right to blame religion. In fact, I’d even make the case that Islam doesn’t even play a real role in the knife attacks. It just happens to be the religious background of a people that want their land back, or at least want to be treated as equals in what once was their land. Possibly only the modus operandi changes: the IRA or the ETA would have planted a bomb.

Therefore, blaming religion is wrong and dangerous, because it would condemn a group far larger than the one engaging in violent activity. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the rise of radical Islam all over the globe is playing and will be playing an ever more important role in the lives of Xinjiang Uyghurs.

In light of the radicalisation of the entire Muslim world, if you don’t come to the conclusion that outsiders have created an environment in which they feel oppressed and which therefore allows terrorism to flourish, then your conclusion can only be that there is no chance of ever abating their extremism. Then you must conclude that Muslims are an evil group that needs to be eradicated or at least fought until they give up. I think history has taught us that that is not the way the cookie crumbles.

Editor’s Note: Sander originally published this post on his blog www.worldofnonging.com on 3/4/14.

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