China’s southern seaboard has replaced the mountainous and tightly guarded western frontier as the preferred route for Islamic extremists to slip recruits out of the country, according to a leading expert on terrorism.
Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, claimed that “over 400 Uygurs have left, most through Hong Kong via Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to join the IS [Islamic State].”
He refused to disclose the source of the information about the recruits to the militant group, which is active in Syria and Iraq. “There should be greater intelligence cooperation to detect and disrupt terrorist travel,” Gunaratna told the South China Morning Post.
A Hong Kong Police Force spokesman said last night that there was no solid intelligence to show that Hong Kong was a likely target of terrorism and the city’s terrorist threat level remained moderate. He said police would remain on high alert and take appropriate precautions in response to the risk assessment.
Gunaratna’s claim comes as a leaked Guangdong police document revealed that the authorities broke up a Pearl River Delta syndicate that smuggled at least six Uygurs to Macau on February 18 and 24. The document said the syndicate was planning to smuggle more Uygurs hiding in Guangzhou, Foshan and Zhongshan to Macau before police busted the ring on March 2.
The document, which has been verified independently, also revealed that a boat that capsized in Macau waters on February 27 was actually ferrying Uygurs – not Chinese gamblers as previously reported.
The boat capsized about 500 metres from the Grand Coloane Resort, and six people, including an alleged snakehead, were picked up by Macau customs and police. Another 10 people were missing and presumed dead.
Macau police later confirmed this was a covert operation to smuggle Uygurs out of the mainland. The Guangdong police document implied that the Uygurs on the vessel were involved in terrorist activities and this had prompted them to carry out the March 2 raid.
Four days after the raid, at least two knife-wielding attackers injured 13 civilians in the square outside the Guangzhou Railway Station. One attacker was shot dead and another was wounded and captured. Some witnesses said there was a third attacker who fled – a claim police denied.
The previous night, two Uygur women armed with knives were shot dead in Guangzhou’s Baiyun district, an area that had become a meeting place for Uygurs in recent months, according to the document. But this incident was not reported.
Professor Yang Shu, an expert on Central Asia at Lanzhou University in Gansu province, said it was hard to assess security risks of further attacks in major Guangdong cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen “because we don’t know how many have fled”.
He said more Uygurs were fleeing the country via Guangdong’s waters. “The smuggling routes in southern Chinese waters are very hard to intercept so they are preferred to the land crossings to Central Asia that have very strict border control,” Yang said.
Reports of Chinese Uygurs leaving the country to join Islamic State started to emerge a year ago. Earlier this year, Malaysian authorities said that more than 300 Chinese nationals had used Malaysia as a transit point to join up with Islamic State.
Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told local media that these Chinese nationals would go to a third country from Malaysia before entering Syria and Iraq. Chinese authorities say an unknown number of its citizens had received combat training from IS, posing a concern for Beijing.
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- China Helps US by Intercepting, Repatriating ISIS Uighur Recruits (tiananmenstremendousachievements.wordpress.com)
- UN calls China’s crackdown on Uighurs ‘disturbing’ (nation.com.pk)
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- Tug-of-war Between China, Turkey Over Suspected Uighurs in Thailand (irrawaddy.org)
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