An Islamic group that has threatened to attack the Olympics released a new video warning Muslims to avoid planes, trains and buses used by Chinese, a US group that monitors militant organisations said.
The six-minute video, issued two days before Friday's opening of the Beijing games, was purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party, which seeks independence for China's western Xinjiang region, the SITE Intelligence Group said on Thursday.
The militants are believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, where security experts say core members have received training from al-Qaeda. "Choose your side," says the speaker, grasping a rifle and dressed in a black turban and camouflage with his face masked. "Do not stay on the same bus, on the same train, on the same plane, in the same buildings, or any place the Chinese are," he warns Muslims, according to SITE.
He speaks in the Turkic language of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority with a population of about 8 million in Xinjiang. Last month, the militant group issued videotaped threats and claimed responsibility for a series of bus bombings in China in recent months. The latest video features graphics similar to ones used earlier: a burning Olympics logo and an explosion imposed over an apparent Olympic venue.
The new video claims the communist regime's alleged mistreatment of Muslims justifies holy war. It accuses China of forcing Muslims into atheism by capturing and killing Islamic teachers and destroying Islamic schools, according to the SITE. It says China's birth control program has forced abortions on Muslim women. "I think what they're doing is they're trying to capitalize on the buildup to the games," said Ben Venzke of IntelCenter, which provides counterterrorism intelligence to US government agencies.
Venzke said on Friday that his group believes that based on the militant group's demonstrated ability to conduct bombings "and the apparent opportunity TIP believes the Olympic Games presents in terms of targeting and striking a blow to China, that the threat is credible and should be taken seriously."
He said the release of a five-page written threat, in conjunction with two videos over the last three months by the group "is indicative of an orchestrated campaign designed to fulfill jihadists belief that they should provide warning before launching a significant attack."
More than 100,000 soldiers and police were guarding Beijing and other Olympic co-host cities. Terrorism experts say the heavy security presence would likely force attackers to target less-protected areas.
"I think the actual Olympics themselves, the venues, the guests, the athletes, are going to be safe," said Drew Thompson, director of China studies at the Nixon Center in Washington. "I would not be an alarmist."
Thompson added that Uighur groups haven't demonstrated they have the capacity to attack Beijing or other host cities during the games.
On Monday, assailants killed 16 border police and wounded 16 others in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar when they rammed a stolen truck into the group before tossing homemade bombs and stabbing them. Chinese authorities called the raid a terrorist attack and said they had arrested two men who are Uighurs.
Authorities have called the men terrorists, but officials have released no evidence linking them to a specific group. Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, appeared to be on high alert on Thursday, the day before the games' opening ceremony in Beijing, thousand of miles (kilometers) away. Security guards were checking bags at the entrances of hotels, department stores and discos in the busy city, where office towers and apartments blocks have been shooting up in recent years.