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China on Al Qaeda radar

Al-Qaeda’s north African wing has threatened to target Chinese workers and projects in the region in retaliation for Muslim deaths in Urumqi last week.

world Updated: Jul 15, 2009 01:34 IST

Al-Qaeda’s north African wing has threatened to target Chinese workers and projects in the region in retaliation for Muslim deaths in Urumqi last week.

It is the first time Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network has directly targeted Chinese interests, according to experts at a London-based risk analysis firm.

Stirling Assynt’s report says that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — based in Algeria — has issued a call for vengeance, basing its statement on information from people who have seen the instruction.

But the assessment does not suggest there is any direct link between Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province and al-Qaeda. It also suggests it is unlikely that al-Qaeda’s central leadership has decided to stage attacks within China.

Justin Crump, head of terrorism and country risk at Stirling Assynt, said: “For al-Qaida central, it is really not in their interests or part of their plan at all. I think you will see action where it is easy by al-Qaida franchises, but it won't be al-Qaida policy. “Strategically it would be highly counter-productive for them if you look at the fact their main assets are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

He suggested that AQIM's decision was partly “opportunistic”, reflecting the ease with which they could target Chinese nationals and anger in some Muslim communities worldwide. Indonesia saw anti-Chinese protests yesterday.

At least 184 people were killed and 1,680 injured in the inter-ethnic violence in Urumqi, which first broke out on 5 July, officials say. According to government figures 137 were Han Chinese, 46 Uighurs and one a Hui man. But Uighurs have alleged that far more of them died — either in a crackdown by security forces or at the hands of Han Chinese during revenge attacks for vicious assaults by Uighurs.

Muslim Uighurs make up almost half the 21-million population of China’s north-western region of Xinjiang. Many have long chafed at strict rules restricting their religion, which include banning under-18s from mosques, as well as Han migration and policies which they believe favour Han Chinese.

“Although AQIM appear to be the first arm of al-Qaida to officially state they will target Chinese interests, others are likely to follow,” adds the note.