The people in a vehicle that crashed near Tiananmen Square this week, leaving five dead, had links to a Uighur militant group in Central Asia, China’s security chief Meng Jianzhu said in an interview with Phoenix Television.
China should take a firmer stance against terrorism, Meng said during a meeting yesterday of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan, according to a video report on Phoenix TV’s website.
“This violent terrorist attack that happened in Beijing is an organized, pre-meditated activity,” Meng, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo, told Phoenix TV. “The instigator behind the scenes is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement terrorist organization that is entrenched in Central and Western Asia.”
The remarks are the first official connection China has made between the Oct. 28 crash and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM. Police found knives and religious material in the sport-utility vehicle that had license plates from the restive western region of Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Xinjiang has experienced sporadic protests by ethnic Uighurs against Chinese rule.
The SUV was driven by a man whose mother and wife were inside when it crashed near Tiananmen Square, Xinhua reported. The incident left all three plus two tourists from the Philippines and the Chinese province of Guangdong dead.
The ETIM was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 2002. It was founded by Hasan Mahsum from Xinjiang, who was killed by Pakistani troops in October 2003, according to the United Nations. China blamed an outbreak of violence in Xinjiang in 2011 on fighters who had trained at ETIM camps in Pakistan.
There is not a lot of evidence that ETIM is a tightly centralized organization, Phil Potter, an assistant professor at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, said by phone today.
“I don’t think that as we understand it that the attack looks like it has the hallmarks of a co-ordinated, centralized, sophisticated terrorist attack in the mold of things we would expect from al-Qaeda,” he said.
Police also found knives and at least one “jihad” flag in the temporary residence of five suspects it detained after the attack, Xinhua reported Oct. 30.
While about 90 percent of China’s population is ethnic Han, more than 40 percent of Xinjiang’s 22 million people are Uighurs, some of whom have protested the government’s decades-long policy of encouraging Han migration to the area, as well as restrictions on religious freedom. Xinjiang was the scene of clashes in 2009 between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and Han that left almost 200 people dead.
Chinese troops are ready when necessary to act against terrorist activities, Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters yesterday, the China News Service said today.
The ETIM has links to other terror groups and has spread “violent and terrorist thoughts,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said today in response to a question about the incident. “It is China’s most direct and real security threat,” she told reporters in Beijing.
— With assistance by Henry Sanderson