An update on this story. Identifying the international groups alleged to be involved will help deflect the charge by human rights groups that this conflict is simply another indigenous independence movement, comparable with that of, say, Tibet. By Alexa Olesen for AP:
BEIJING – Police found links to international terrorist groups during a raid on an alleged terror camp in China’s restive western Muslim region last week, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
Police said they raided a training camp run by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, in the mountainous Xinjiang region on Friday, killing 18 suspects and arresting 17 others.
“There is a large amount of evidence that shows, including evidence we got from this raid, that the ETIM is associated with international terrorist forces,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.
He also said that the group “planned, organized and carried out a series of violent terrorist activities in China.”
Liu gave no specific details about the alleged evidence or attacks and did not say which overseas terror groups those arrested were linked to. China has said before that ETIM has links to al-Qaida.
China labels ETIM as a terrorist organization, as does the United States.
Song Hongli, director of the general office of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, said Monday that one police officer was killed and another was wounded during the raid.
The official China News Service reported the raid occurred in Akto County “” an area about 120 miles east of China’s border with Kyrgyzstan.
Police seized 22 grenades, parts for 1,500 more grenades as well as guns and handmade explosives, the Xinhua News Agency said. The report cited Xinjiang police spokeswoman Ba Yan as saying that the suspects operated mines near the camp to raise funds, but did not specify what sort of mines.
Liu said the 17 arrested suspects would be handled according to the law, but didn’t say where they were being held or what charges they faced.
China has long said that militants among the region’s dominant ethnic Uighurs are leading a violent Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang. The Uighurs are Turkic-speaking Muslims with a language and culture distinct from the majority of Chinese.
Critics accuse Beijing of using claims of terrorism as an excuse to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment and expressions of Uighur identity.
About two dozen Uighurs were captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
China has demanded their return, but the United States fears they might face persecution there. Five Uighurs were sent to Albania last year after no other country would accept them.