Photos of a purported Chinese man fighting for the powerful Islamic militant group, the Islamic State, have raised eyebrows in both Iraq and China since surfacing online on Tuesday.
If proven authentic, they could make the man the first confirmed Chinese national to be found fighting for the extremist Sunni militant group, also known as Isis.
A Facebook page identified as operated by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence published two photos of an apparently captured fighter yesterday.
In a short message along with the posting it described the man as “Chinese daash” - daash being an acronym for “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”, or Isis.
In one photo the captured militant is seen being guarded by an Iraqi soldier. Another photo shows him lying unconscious on the ground.
In both photos the militant seemed to have endured severe beatings to his face, and it is hard to identify his ethnicity based on facial features.
The Chinese embassy in Iraq declined to comment on the photos when contacted on Wednesday. The Iraqi government and Chinese foreign ministry have not responded to interview requests from the South China Morning Post.
If proven authentic, the photos would be the first evidence that Chinese nationals have joined the extremist Sunni militants, along with scores of foreigners, including at least several hundred from Britain, Australia and the United States.
Last year a video emerged on YouTube that showed a Chinese man, calling himself “Bo Wang”, who said he had joined Islamist militants to fight in Syria.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in a July speech stated that “Muslim rights are forcibly seized in China, India, Palestine”, and urged all Muslims around the world to join his cause.
Wu Sike, China’s special envoy to the Middle East, has previously stated than an estimated 100 Chinese citizens may be fighting for the Islamic State. They are mostly Muslim Uyghurs from China’s remote western region of Xinjiang, according to Wu.
Yin Gang, a West Asian and African Studies scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, estimated that hundreds of Chinese nationals have been fighting for the Islamic State.
“‘All Muslims under heaven are one family’. These Chinese nationals are responding to the extreme Muslims’ call to join the jihad of Isis and are seeking to gather combat experience,” Yin said.
He said these fighters previously sought to join al-Qaeda in Afghanistan but as the nation became politically more stable, they are now entering Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State, because the region is “the paradise of jihadists”.