By B. Raman
The Chinese authorities have expressed the suspicion that the recent acts of violence in the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang province might have been carried out by the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan (IMET) from its sanctuaries in North Waziristan in Pakistan.
According to well-informed Pakistani Police sources, President Hu Jintao had rung up President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan to express his concern over the stepped-up activities of the IMET in the Xinjiang province a month before the holding of the international expo in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, from September 1 to 5.
Following this, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is rushing to Beijing to discuss with the Chinese authorities their concerns over likely threats to the Urumqi Expo fromIMET elements operating from sanctuaries in North Waziristan. The IMET is one of the affiliates of Al Qaeda.
A backgrounder on the IMET prepared by me in March, 2010, in connection with the international expo held in Shanghai last year is annexed.
EVALUATION OF POSSIBLE THREATS TO THE INTERNATIONAL EXPO IN SHANGHAI PREPARED BY ME IN MARCH 2010
THREATS AGAINST CHINA ISSUED BY THE ISLAMIC MOVEMENT OF EASTERN TURKESTAN (IMET)
(a).On July 25,2008, a private security consultancy agency of the US claimed to have intercepted a three-minutes Olympics-specific video message by one Sayfallah, who claimed to belong to an organisation called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) in which he threatened acts of violence directed against the Olympics. He claimed that his organisation was responsible for the explosions in buses in Shanghai in May,2008, and in Kunming in Yunnan in July, 2008. He said that his group was planning to attack Chinese cities “using previously unused methods”. He added: ” This is our last warning to China and the rest of the world. The viewers and athletes, especially those who are Muslim, who plan to go to the Olympics should change their plans and not go to China. The Turkistan Islamic Party plans military attacks on people, offices, arenas, and other activities that are connected to the Chinese Olympic Games.” The threat was not carried out.
(b). The CBS News of the US reported on April 15, 2009, that the media wing of the IMET called Sawt al Islam had disseminated a 43-minute video entitled “Persistence and preparation for Jihad”. To quote the CBS:” It includes a statement by the group’s current leader Sheikh AbulHaq, as well as its late leader Hassan Makhdum, whose alias is Abu Mohammed al Turkistani. AbulHaq said
“jihad” was a duty that falls on all Muslims just like any other religious duty. He also pledged more attacks against Chinese forces.”
(c). In a video posted on an Islamist web site on August 1,2009, Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, who was described by the web site as the leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), urged Muslims to attack Chinese interests to punish Beijing for what he described as massacres against Uighur Muslims. He said: “They ( the Chinese) must be targeted both at home and abroad. Their embassies, consulates, centers and gathering places should be targeted. Their men should be killed and captured to seek the release of our brothers who are jailed in Eastern Turkistan … Our duty, we in Eastern Turkistan, is to continue to resist without desperation.” He accused China of committing “barbaric massacres” against Muslims in East Turkistan….Abdul-Haq’s face was digitally blurred in the Arabic-language version of the video which also contained a collage of footage of the violence in the region. He was speaking with an assault rifle to his right and what appeared to be a pistol pouch strapped to his shoulder.
ORIGIN OF THE IMET:
The first signs of Islamic fundamentalism appeared in Uzbekistan in December 1991, when some unemployed Muslim youth seized the Communist Party headquarters in the eastern city of Namangan, to protest against the refusal of the local Mayor to permit the construction of a mosque. The protest was organised by TohirAbdouhalilovitchYuldashev, a 24-year-old college drop-out, who had become a Mulla, and JumaboiAhmadzhanovitchKhojaev, a former Soviet paratrooper who had served in Afghanistan and returned from there totally converted to Wahabism. Yuldashev and Khojaev, who later adopted the alias JumaNamangani, after his hometown, became members of the Uzbekistan branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). Following the IRP’s refusal to support their demand for the establishment of an Islamic State in Uzbekistan, they formed their own party called the Adolat (Justice) Party, which was banned by President Islam Karimov. They then fled to Tajikistan. While Namangani fought in the local civil war, Yuldashev went to Chechnya to participate in the jihad there. In 1995, he went to Pakistan, where the jihadi organisations gave him shelter in Peshawar. From there, he re-named the Adolat Party as the IMU and was allegedly in receipt of funds from the intelligence agencies of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. After Osama bin Laden shifted to Jalalabad from Khartoum in Sudan in 1996, Yuldashev crossed over into Afghanistan. After the end of the civil war in Tajikistan, Namangani settled down for a while as a road transport operator. He was also allegedly involved in heroin smuggling from Afghanistan. Subsequently, he too crossed over into Afghanistan and joined the IMU and became its leader. The IMU allegedly earns a major part of its revenue from heroin smuggling. After the Taliban captured Kabul in September, 1996, Namangani and Yuldashev held a press conference at Kabul at which they announced the formation of the IMU with Namangani as the Amir and Yuldashev as its military commander. In 1998, the IMU joined the International Islamic Front (IIF) of Al Qaeda. The IMU’s initial goal was described as the overthrow of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and the establishment of an Islamic State in Uzbekistan. It changed its name to the Islamic Party of Turkestan (IPT) in June 2001, and called for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia consisting of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and China’s Xinjiang province. It was recruiting members from all these areas, including Uighurs from Xinjiang. Initially, its recruits were trained by the Arab instructors of Al Qaeda in the training camps in Afghan territory and after 9/11 by Chechen and Pashtun instructors of the Taliban in the South Waziristan area of Pakistan. Despite its 2001 change of name as IPT, it continued to be known in Uzbekistan as the IMU. The Uighur members of the IMU constituted themselves into a separate organization in June 2001 and started calling themselves the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (IMET) or Islamic Party of Turkestan or the Turkestan Islamic Party.
The IMET sporadically brings out a journal called “Turkistan al-Muslimah (Muslim Turkistan)”. It gives the name of the organization as the Hizb al-Islami al-Turkistani (Turkistan Islamic Party – TIP). The first issue of the journal, which was published in July 2008 by al-Fajr Institute for Islamic Media, described its objective as revealing “the real situation of our Muslim nation in East Turkistan, which is living under the occupation of the Communist Chinese and to disclose the falsehood of the Chinese Government, exposing its crimes [against Muslims] to the world… [we want the] world to understand our cause and rights, that we are seeking our freedom and independence and to be ruled by God’s Shari’a” .
The journal published an interview in two parts with Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, its Amir. In the interview, he gave details of his early life and religious education and described how he traveled to Afghanistan from Xinjiang via Pakistan. He also referred to the Taliban training camps he and his Uighur followers had attended in Khost, Bagram, Kabul and Herat before 9/11. He mentioned that originally the IMET was part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) before it separated from the IMU and constituted itself as an independent organization representing the Uighurs. Before the Olympics of August,2008, the IMET used to issue threats of biological, chemical and conventional attacks on targets in China, but it was not able to carry out its threats.
The journal describes jihad as an Islamic duty and among the contributors of articles are one Abu KhaledSaifallah, Abu Jaafar al-Mansour and Abu Umar al-Farooq. In his article, AbuJa’afar al-Mansour warned China as follows: “China beware… take a lesson from those who preceded you, the Americans and [their] allies, who were defeated badly in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Do not walk on the same road and do not use the [same] approach in prejudices [against] God’s subjects and in looting their wealth and fortunes, and in shedding the blood of the children…as America is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan” . The articles carried by the journal showed the IMET’s admiration for
Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi and Omar al-Baghdadi in Iraq and Abdul Malik Droukdel (a.k.a. Abu Mus’ab Abdul Wadood) in Algeria.
After it separated from the IMU, the IMET was headed as Amir by Hassan Mahsum also known as HasanMakhdoom and also as Abu Muhammad al-Turkistani. He was killed by the Pakistani security forces in South Waziristan on October 2,2003. He was succeeded by Abdul Haq al-Turkistani also known as MaimaitimingMaimaiti as the Amir in 2004. According to the US Treasury Department, which designated him as a global terrorist in April 2009,Haq was appointed as a member of Al Qaeda’s ShuraMajlis, or executive council, in 2005. The UN also designated Haq as a terrorist leader. In June 2009, Haq was reported to have attended a meeting with BaitullahMehsud, the then Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), SirajuddinHaqqani of the Afghan Taliban, and Abu Yahya al-Libi of Al Qaeda to discuss about the operations of the Pakistan Army against the TTP in South Waziristan. Baitullah subsequently died following a missile attack by a US Drone on the house of his father-in-law which he was visiting in August,2009. According to the Treasury Department’s notification declaring him a global terrorist, Haq sent operatives abroad to raise funds for attacks against Chinese interests both at home and abroad. He was also involved with the planning and execution of terror attacks, recruiting, and propaganda efforts. In early 2008, Haq openly threatened to conduct attacks at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Haq ran a training camp for his recruits near an Al Qaeda camp in Tora Bora in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar before the US invasion in October 2001. He later reestablished the IMET’s training camps in North Waziristan in Pakistan. According to Amir Mir, the Pakistani journalist, who writes in the “ News”, a spokesman of the TTP admitted that Abdul Haq was among the three militants killed in an American Drone strike in the Tappi village of Miramshah in North Waziristan on February 15, 2010, while they were travelling in a vehicle. According to a report from another source, the US strike targeted a vehicle and a safe house operated by Taliban leader Hafiz GulBaradar in the town of TabiGhundi Kala. Four terrorists were reported killed in the attack The IMET has not so far admitted his death and designated his successor. It is generally expected that his successor could be one of the three persons who regularly write for the IMET’s journal under the pseudonym Abu KhaledSaifallah, Abu Jaafar al-Mansour and Abu Umar al-Farooq. Nothing is known about their personal background. Abu KhaledSaifallah could be the same person who, under the name Sayfallah issued a video message on July 25,2008, claiming responsibility on behalf of the IMET for the explosions in Shanghai and Kunming and threatening attacks on the Beijing Olympics, which did not materialize. If his claim of responsibility for the Shanghai explosion is correct, it would show that the IMET has a capability for terrorist strikes in Shanghai-Pudong. The IMET will try to operate through Uighur migrant workers employed in Shanghai-Pudong and other coastal areas.
THE IMET’S TERRORIST INFRASTRUCTURE
Before 9/11, the training camps of the IMET were located in the Taliban-controlled Afghan territory. After the fall of the Taliban as a result of the US military operations post 9/11, the IMET’s training camps were transferred to North Waziristan. Its training camps work in close co-ordination with those of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The IMET and the IMU often exchange their training facilities—- with the IMU training the Uighurs and the the IMET training Uzbecks too. Abdul Haq used to run the training camps in Afghan territory before October 7,2001, when the US started its military operations in Afghanistan. The IMET maintains close relations with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Afghan Taliban headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Uighurs have not yet taken to suicide terrorism in the same way that the two Talibans and the Chechens have. If the Uighur terrorists had succeeded in their attempt to blow up a Chinese aircraft in March,2008, that would have been a major act of suicide terrorism. Their terrorist acts have involved attacks on the security forces with hand-held weapons, use of explosive devices and dashing heavy vehicles such as tractors against the personnel of the security forces.
THE UIGHURS OF THE GUANTANAMO DETENTION CAMP
Twenty-two Uighurs belonging to the IMET, who were arrested in Afghan or Pakistani territory post 9/11, were detained by the US in the Guantanamo detention centre in Cuba. Most of them have since been released by the US on the ground that there was no evidence of their involvement with Al Qaeda or in acts of terrorism directed against the US. The US did not hand them over to China for investigation and prosecution. They have reportedly been allowed to settle down in places such as Albania or the Pacific island of Palau or Switzerland. There is a danger of some of them reverting back to terrorism and rejoining the IMET. It would be necessary for the Chinese security services to request their counterparts in the countries where they are living to keep a watch on them and ensure that they do not reestablist contact with the IMET and allow themselves to be used by the IMET for terrorist strikes during the Shanghai Expo.
MODUS OPERANDI USED BY THE UIGHURS IN THE PAST
(A). On March 7, 2008, the Chinese authorities had claimed to have foiled an attempt by three Uighurs to blow up a plane of the China Southern Airlines flying from Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province, to Beijing. The persons involved had allegedly managed to smuggle inside the aircraft gasoline concealed inside a can of soft drinks. The plot was foiled by alert security guards on board the plane and two of the suspects were arrested on board the plane. A third was arrested subsequently. The Chairman of China Southern Airlines Liu Chaoyong said that a female passenger came out of the rest room and passed by a flight attendant who detected a suspicious smell. Then she smelt the scent of perfume and gasoline in front of the rest room. The attendant immediately searched the rest room and found an inflammable substance inside the garbage bin of the rest room. The attendant notified the airplane security guard immediately. Based upon how the female passenger spoke and acted, they realized that the male passenger next to her was a companion. The two individuals were arrested. The plane crew then moved the suspicious substance into the special container bin for handling such materials. The plane made an unscheduled stop at the Lanzhou airport. The two suspects were taken away by the police. Liu Chaoyong said that the preliminary analysis was that the two individuals intended to hide the inflammable material and then take action at the appropriate moment. The ‘News” of Pakistan reported online on March 21, 2008, that two of the suspects arrested—- a woman and a man— travelled with Pakistani passports. The woman was described as an Uighur living in Pakistan and trained in a Pakistani jihadi camp and the man as a Central Asian (Uzbeck?). The third person, who escaped, but was subsequently arrested, was described as a Pakistani, who had masterminded the plot.
(B).AUGUST 4, 2008:Fourteen border police guards were killed on the spot and two others succumbed to injuries later when a 28-year-old taxi driver later identified by the name KurbanjanHemit, a resident of Kashgar, drove a stolen truck into a group of 70 police guards jogging on the road in the morning. Initially, the Chinese authorities had claimed that they were killed by home-made explosives and knives, but subsequent reports indicated that they were crushed to death under a truck. The driver had an accomplice, who was also a native of Kashgar. He was identified as Abdurrahman Azat, a 33-year-old vegetable vendor. He had placed himself with a mobile telephone outside the border police post. He reportedly informed the driver as soon as the police guards came out and started jogging on the road. As the truck ran over them, the vegetable vendor threw a home-made bomb at the police post and killed some of the injured with a knife used for cutting vegetables. Both the attackers were arrested.
(C).AUGUST 10,2008: Between 3 and 4 AM, 15 Uighurs in different taxis drove round the town of Kuqa (pronounced Kucha), located midway on the railway line between Kashgar and Urumqi and threw home-made hand-grenades and tins filled with gasoline at the local office of the Public Security Department, other government offices, hotels and shops owned by Hans. Since there were not many people on the road at such an early hour in the morning, there were only two fatalities, a police officer and a civilian. The police, who were initially taken by surprise, subsequently managed to corner the attackers and shot dead eight of them. Two blew themselves up with hand-grenades in order to escape capture. Two, including a 15-year-old Uighur girl (HailiqiemuAbulizi), who was badly injured by a hand-grenade, were captured. Three managed to escape.The Germany-based East Turkestan Information Center (ETIC) said that “East Turkestan freedom and independence fighters attacked a Party building … a people’s government building, a tax office, bazaar management, and brothel on Aug. 10.” It added that the attackers, seven men and four women, were “martyred.”
(D).AUGUST 12,2008:At the town of Yamanya, about 30 Kms from Kashgar, an unspecified number of persons jumped out of a vehicle at a road check-point and stabbed to death three security guards, who were stopping and checking vehicles. A fourth guard was badly injured. It is not known what happened to the attackers.
(E)The “News” of Pakistan of June 6,2009, reported as follows: “The fact that the IMET militants had extended their network of terrorist activities to Pakistan was evident from a threat they had conveyed to the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, saying they intended to kidnap Chinese diplomats and consular officers stationed in the Pakistani federal capital with a view to highlighting their cause. The Chinese mission subsequently informed the Pakistani authorities in a letter that some members of the IMET had already reached Islamabad and planned to kidnap their staffers from the federal capital. The letter reportedly pointed out that terrorist groups located in Pakistan, including Al Qaeda, had been providing support to the IMET activists for the likely kidnappings. Subsequent investigations had established that the anonymous threat was issued by none other than the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and that the would-be kidnappers had first travelled to Jalalabad in Afghanistan to finalise their plans.”
(F). A large number of mysterious attacks with hypodermic syringe needles on the back were reported from different parts of Urumqi since August 17, 2009. These attacks continued for nearly a month and then subsided. There were no reports of any fatalities due to these syringe attacks, which seem to have caused only minor injuries to the persons—-some of them school-going Han children— attacked. There was no reason to suspect the use of poison at the tip of the needles. While the authorities did not say as to who were behind these attacks, local sources suspected that the IMET must have been behind these attacks. These attacks started a few days before the Muslim holy fasting period of Ramadan began.
Thus, the Uighurs had in the past used the following modus operandi:
(a). Attempt to use explosives to hijack or blow up a plane.
(b). Driving a truck or other heavy vehicles into security forces personnel.
( c). Stealing taxis and driving around the town indiscriminately opening fire on the people.
(d). Attacks on security posts.
(e) Plan to kill Chinese diplomats in Pakistan.
(f). Needle stabbings to cause panic and confusion.
It would be necessary to brief those responsible for security at the Expo and in Shanghai-Pudong about the details of the MO used by the Uighurs in the past and train them as to how to deal with such MO if sought to be used again.
OTHER INFORMATION OF INTEREST
Anti-Beijing elements in the Uighur community in China as well as abroad could try to embarrass the Chinese authorities in order draw attention to their demands in the period before and during the Expo. These elements fall into two groups. The first group consists of those inspired by the pan-Islamic ideology of Al Qaeda and acting in co-operation with it. In one of his messages of 2006, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 of Al Qaeda, had included Xinjiang in the list of lands historically belonging to the Muslims now under the control of non-Muslims. He wanted all these lands to be “liberated” from the control of non-Muslims. The pro-Al Qaeda Uighurs mainly operate from the North Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. It has been difficult to quantify their number. Different reports estimate their number differently—-ranging between 100 and 1000.
There are strong indicators from independent sources in the Uighur diaspora in Pakistan that the disturbances in Xinjiang in the first week of July,2009, were initially externally-instigated by the Munich-based and US-funded World Uighur Congress (WUC) headed by the US-based RebiyaKadeer and subsequently exploited by the North Waziristan (in Pakistan) based IMET, which operates in tandem with Al Qaeda as a member of its International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed in 1998.
The WUC is funded openly and helped in other ways such as the training of its cadres by the Congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) of the US and the Holland-based Unrepresented Nations’ and Peoples’ Organisation (UNPO). Its membership used to largely consist of Uighurs from the diaspora outside China—mainly from the Western countries. Only during the Urumqi uprising of July,2009. it became evident that it has built up a following at least in the Uighur student community in Urumqi. The WUC is a secular and liberal organisation, which opposes Islamic fundamentalism.
When the Chinese occupied Xinjiang in 1949, a large number of the political elite of the province fled to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Some of them migrated to West Germany and were used by the CIA during the cold war for assisting it in the broadcasts of Radio Liberty directed to Xinjiang. These secular and liberal Uighurs in the diaspora, who are now associated with the WUC, are admirers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and interact closely with the Tibetan diaspora in the West.
Whereas the WUC fights against the Han Chinese because they are in occupation of the traditional Uighur homeland, the IMET fights against the Hans because it says they are infidels, who are in occupation of territory, which historically belonged to the Umma. While the WUC till recently drew most of its members from the Uighur diaspora in the West and Australia, the IMET has been drawing its members from the Uighur diaspora in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. While the WUC gets most of its funds from North America, West Europe and Australia, the IMET has been getting its funds from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. According to reliable Uighur sources in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan contributes money regularly to the IMET and helps many Uighur students in Pakistan.
The Urumchi uprising also came at a time when there was a revival of jihadi violence in Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan since the beginning of 2009. While local grievances of the Uighurs were responsible for the fresh wave of unrest in Xinjiang, the revival of pro-Taliban activities in Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan came in the wake of attempts by the US to find alternate routes for the movement of logistic supplies to their troops in Afghanistan through Russia and the Central Asian Republics. Following frequent attacks by the Pakistani Taliban on convoys carrying logistic supplies passing through the Pashtun areas, the US embarked on an exercise to find alternate routes. Reliable sources say that Al Qaeda has been encouraging the Uzbeks, the Uighurs and the Chechens to unite to foil this US exercise and to target the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s joint operations against terrorism.