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China issues security alert after Al-Qaeda threat

China issued a security alert on Wednesday to its citizens in Algeria after Al-Qaeda reportedly vowed to avenge the deaths of Muslims killed during ethnic unrest in this northwestern city.

world Updated: Jul 16, 2009 09:10 IST

China issued a security alert on Wednesday to its citizens in Algeria after Al-Qaeda reportedly vowed to avenge the deaths of Muslims killed during ethnic unrest in this northwestern city.

As an ongoing hefty police presence helped more businesses and shop re-open on Wednesday in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, China's embassy in Algiers called on Chinese citizens to be wary of any threats.

"The Chinese Embassy in Algeria is specially calling on Chinese-funded organisations and personnel to raise their security awareness and strengthen security measures," the embassy said in a statement on its website.

The statement said tougher security measures should be taken "in view of the situation following the violent criminal incident in Urumqi on July 5" and that any "emergency matter" should be reported to the embassy immediately.

The warning came after London-based risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt said in a report that an Al-Qaeda affiliate had vowed to avenge the deaths of Muslim Uighurs killed in Xinjiang by targeting Chinese workers in north Africa.

The call came from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Stirling report said. It was the first time Osama bin Laden's network has directly threatened China or its interests, it noted.

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese work in the Middle East and North Africa, including 50,000 in Algeria, the report said.

The state-run China Daily carried a front-page article on Wednesday publicising the embassy statement and reported that China's diplomatic mission in Tunisia was working on contingency plans following the Al-Qaeda warning.

A foreign ministry spokeswoman in Beijing however told AFP the alert was issued by the embassy in Algiers, and the government had not yet issued a general warning.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Tuesday that Beijing would "take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of overseas Chinese institutions and people."

Chinese authorities have said unrest in Urumqi on July 5 left 184 people dead -- most of whom were Han, China's dominant ethnic group -- and more than 1,600 injured after a Uighur protest turned into a "riot".

Thousands of Han Chinese retaliated in the following days, arming themselves with makeshift weapons and marching through parts of Urumqi vowing vengeance against the Uighurs, according to witnesses and AFP reporters at the scene.

The Uighurs, many of whom have chafed under China's 60-year rule in the huge mountainous region, have accused Chinese forces of opening fire on peaceful protests.

They say the number of people killed is far higher than the official tally and that there were also attacks on Uighurs in other parts of Xinjiang.

On Monday, police shot and killed two knife-wielding Uighur "lawbreakers" and wounded another in Urumqi, the government said, highlighting that the city remained volatile.

Two Uighurs who said they witnessed the incident from 50 metres (yards) away contradicted the official account, telling AFP that the trio had been trying to attack security forces.

The violence prompted a flood of riot police into the Uighur district near where the shootings took place, and the security clampdown was still in force Wednesday.

Riot police remained in place at intersections in the district and kept control of the area's main bazaar, which they have commandeered as a base.

Steel fences that could be quickly wheeled to block the streets were also placed on the side of roads. Traffic was still restricted in some areas.

As a result, some shops opened for the first time since the initial violence broke out 10 days ago, including one mobile phone store in a Han area close to the scene of Monday's shootings.

"The Uighurs and Han in Urumqi have always got along pretty well. I think we are going to be able to get back to that very soon," said a 24-year-old Han Chinese woman called Liao, as she swept the floors in the store.

A Uighur noodle shop owner said the strong troop presence had provided some comfort. "We are getting back to normal here, thanks to all the security around," he told AFP, declining to give his name.