Chinese police are probing claimsthat teenage Uyghur girls based outside the restive Xinjiang province were being telephoned and asked to serve as "sex slaves" for Islamic State jihadists in the Middle East.
State-run Global Times, quoting online posts alleging a number of phone calls made to Uyghur girls, reported that they were being telephoned and asked to serve as "sex slaves" by Islamic State (IS) jihadists in West Asia.
Xinjiang, which is on boil over the native Muslim Uygurs protests opposing Han settlements, as well as several parts of China have witnessed terror attacks recently allegedly carried out by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) comprising of Uygur youth who have also been found to be fighting in Syria along with IS.
A post on Sina Weibo, akin to Twitter, claimed that some Uyghur students from Xinjiang, who are studying at high schools outside the region, have received anonymous phone calls.
These appear to be soliciting them to give up studying and travel to Iraq to become "sex slaves" for IS fighters. The post immediately caught wide attention and was reposted at least 2,000 times before it was deleted on Monday.
A person identified as Zheng who claimed knowledge about such calls was quoted by the Chinese daily as saying that he was told by several Uygur school girls about similar phone calls.
"They told me that they received anonymous calls, asking them to go to Syria through Indonesia for battlefield service. They were asked to dedicate themselves to jihadists. But the girls did not report this to the police. They were hesitant, because (they thought) all Muslims are brothers and sisters," Zheng noted.
He said the solicitation may expand from individuals to larger groups.
"Many teenagers (studying outside Xinjiang) are from rural areas in southern Xinjiang. They are easily affected due to their family backgrounds," Zheng said.
Police in Altay prefecture in Xinjiang said they are following up on the issue.
"It is possible that such calls do exist. One of our investigation focuses at present is how the students' numbers were leaked," a police officer from the Altay bureau said.
The officer added that before local students leave to attend schools outside the region, they all have to go through a training session.
"Such training is more about warning against participation in illegal religious activities, instead of being designed to guard against such calls, but I believe students will be highly alert if they receive such calls," the officer said.
Meanwhile, an anti-terrorism official in Xinjiang said they have taken note of similar online revelations, and authorities are looking into the issue.
However, this is yet to be confirmed.
Li Wei, an expert on anti-terrorism with the Chinese Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said it would be very difficult to actually send those students out of the country, even if the alleged instigators are able to contact the students.
Sun Lizhou, a Xinjiang-born scholar from Chongqing University, said the authenticity of such calls still needs to be verified, "but since some Uygurs are reportedly fighting alongside IS in Syria, it would be possible to speak to the students on the phone."
"Junior or senior high school students are an easy target of such incitement since they are psychologically immature and many are rebellious in their teenage years. A lack of objective judgment also makes them vulnerable to these audio or video files," Li said.
An anonymous anti-terrorism official in Xinjiang said separatist groups tend to link themselves with overseas terrorist organizations, such as the IS, so as to boost their international standing, and win recognition from those groups in exchange for financial and personnel support.
The IS is also reportedly planning on expanding its "holy war" to Xinjiang.
According to a report from Phoenix Weekly, in a video released early July, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claimed he will take revenge on those who took away the rights of Muslims in 20 countries, with China allegedly placed at the top.
"This is the habitual practice of terrorist groups for propaganda efforts. It won't have any substantial influence," Li said.