Extremists from the remote Xinjiang region in China’s northwest are joining the Islamic State (IS) to join ‘jihad’ against western forces, a top Communist Party of China (CPC) official said on Tuesday.
Authorities have busted a cell in the region, home to the Uyghur community, that was being run by some of those who had returned after fighting for the IS, Zhang Chunxian, the CPC chief of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) said at a briefing on the sidelines of the ongoing session of China’s Parliament on Tuesday.
China had earlier claimed that at least 300 people from Xinjiang had crossed the border to join the IS.
“I believe Xinjiang has extremists that have joined IS,” Zhang Chunxian said.
“The organisation has growing international influence and Xinjiang is affected by it. We've busted a terrorist cell in Xinjiang run by those who have returned from fighting with the organisation," Zhang said at the briefing.
“Some people in Hotan prefecture in southern Xinjiang have been influenced by IS,” Eziz Musar, the prefecture's commissioner, was quoted by the state media as saying on Tuesday. He added that influence was also being felt in other parts of the region.
Like in most government statements about Xinjiang, the officials shared few details about the claims.
"To break the case, to reduce human loss and casualties and ensure security, sometimes you have to keep some things confidential for a time," Zhang said.
Chinese authorities had earlier termed this illegal movement as “jihadi migration”, blaming the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for influencing sections of the society in XUAR.
Rights activists have said that the Chinese government’s claims about the ETIM’s involvement in terror activities in China are exaggerated. They say the unrest in Xinjiang – and related attacks elsewhere in China – are a reaction to the government’s harsh policies in the remote region including increasing curbs on the practice of Islam.
Dilxat Raxit, the spokesperson for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, told Reuters news agency in an email that remarks by Xinjiang officials “completely serve” China's domestic political needs.
“China continues to avoid the main factors behind conflict and dissatisfaction,” he told Reuters.