Beijing: A number of Uygur Muslims from China’s volatile Xinjiang province are being trained in Pakistan-based militant camps and then sent to Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad regime, the Syrian envoy here has said.
“Our informant told us around 30 young Uyghur men went to Pakistan to receive military training and then went to Turkey,” Syrian Ambassador to China Imad Moustapha told state-run Global Times today.
“Our estimate is that there are around 30 Chinese involved. We believe the reason they went to Turkey after training in Pakistan is to go to Syria. Most probably, they are now fighting in the northern city of Aleppo but we’re not sure about this,” he said.
Significantly his allegations carried in Chinese state media comes just ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s five day visit here beginning July 4.
The issue will figure in Chinese leaders talks with Sharif as one such militant was captured in Xinjiang recently.
His capture took place amid large-scale violence in the province bordering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
China believes Western media are encouraging “terrorism” in Xinjiang by misrepresenting violence in the region and the militants operating there are linked to some Syrian Islamist rebel groups who are allied to al-Qaeda.
“What we know for sure is they were trained in Pakistan and then travelled to Turkey. Our informant who is based in one military camp in Pakistan told us there are 30 of them, but that doesn’t mean there are not more of them,” the Syrian Ambassador said.
Memeti Aili, an Uygur who fought in Syria, was recently arrested on return. He plotted to “carry out violent attack and improve fighting skills” from East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist group fighting in Xinjiang.
ETIM is a terrorist group that aims to create an Islamist state in Xinjiang, the Global Times report said.
A Chinese anti-terrorism official told the daily that about 100 people like Memeti Aili had travelled to Syria to join the fighting alongside Syrian rebels since last year.
“Their purpose is to overcome their fears, improve their fighting skills and gain experience in carrying out terror attacks,” according to the official who declined to be named.
Uyrgus, the natives of Xinjiang, were of Turkik origin and have fraternal ties with Turkey.
China for long has been pressing Ankara to crackdown on groups in Turkey critical about China’s crackdown against Uygurs in Xinjiang. Uygurs are restive over increasing settlements of Han Chinese from mainland China.
Chinese officials are also curious about reports of three Uygurs who were captured by Indian border security forces at Leh region recently while attempting to cross over to Pakistan.
Xinjiang, in China’s far west, borders PoK besides central Asia and is home to 10 million Uyghurs.
It was rocked by two terror attacks that killed 35 people last week, just days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the July 5 riot in the capital Urumqi that left 197 people dead.
Asked whether Syrian army kill or capture any Xinjiang terrorists, the Syrian envoy said, “usually we do not publicise the information about those we captured in the media. We inform intelligence agencies in their respective countries.”
He also said China has been informed about it.
“We share everything we have with China. We are always willing to share everything that is in China’s interests. We have told China many times that if those extremists, who are fighting today in Syria, end up winning, they will go on fighting in somewhere else like Iran,” he said.
“If they win in Iran, they will not stop and they might end up fighting in Russia or in China,” he said.
“This is not only a Syrian struggle.It’s a struggle between the forces of secular countries and extreme fundamentalist Islamic ideology,” the Ambassador said.
Supporting Chinese crackdown against militants in Xinjiang, he said, “we know more than anybody else how dangerous these individuals are. They use the pretext of religion to spread their extremist agenda that belongs in the Middle Ages and not today.
“We are absolutely confident that China has the strength and expertise to deal with these terrorist groups and we know that more and more Chinese understand the nature of the struggle in Syria against these groups. They are a common enemy to both our nations,” he added.
Syria is embroiled in a bloody civil war for over more than two years that has left nearly one lakh dead.