At least 10 Turkish nationals have been detained by the Chinese police for allegedly assisting terror suspects from restive Xinjiang. They were among 11 other people – including nine terror suspects – who were trying to leave China illegally on false documents.
It is rare for foreign nationals in China to be arrested on charges of aiding terror suspects. If the court indicts them, the Turkish nationals could face up to a life term in prison. Depending on the circumstances, the minimum they face is two years in jail, state media reported.
The arrests were reported at a time when the government has banned the ‘burqa’ for women in Urumqi, the provincial capital, to restrain “extremist behaviour”. The arrested foreign nationals were accused of “providing fake Turkish passports to the terror suspects” and trying to help them to slip out of the country.
The Chinese nationals had paid them 60,000 Yuan or around Rs 6 lakh for Turkish passports. Their plan was to escape to Pakistan, Syria and Afghanistan.
“Audio and video materials related to terrorism were found among the suspects who were trying to leave China,” a report in the state-run Global Times newspaper said.
The arrest of the Turkish nationals is likely to strengthen the official narrative of the government that outside forces were aiding and abetting separatism and violence in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), home to millions of Muslim Uyghurs. The newspaper added, the crimes committed by the Turkish “carries a sentence of 2 to 7 years in prison. If there are aggravating circumstances, those convicted could be sentenced to 7 years to life in prison”.
The arrests and the investigations in the case come at a time when authorities in Xinjiang have been tightening security measures in the region, following increasing cases of violence in the vast province.
In late 2013 and 2014, violence also spilled outside the region. In March 31, suspects from Xinjiang were accused of carrying out sword and knife attacks in the city of Kunming in southern China, killing dozens of people and injuring many others.
In another move, the government has ruled that people in Xinjiang who buy fireworks for the upcoming Chinese New Year in February to register using their real names. “The move is meant to reduce safety risks caused by illegal firework outlets and poor quality fireworks on the market, and to prevent terrorists from obtaining raw materials to make explosive devices,” an official told state media.