Tiananmen Square terror attack

Uygurs doubt Xinjiang militants had any role in Tiananmen Square attack

Militants from Xinjiang linked by security officials to last week's Tiananmen incident

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 6:41am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 6:41am

Uygurs in China have questioned the central government's claim that a militant separatist group drawn from the Muslim minority was responsible for last week's suspected terrorist attack in Tiananmen Square.

Uygurs interviewed said they doubted that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) had the capacity or support to pull off even a crude attack like the fiery car crash that killed two tourists and three suspected Uygur attackers.

An ethnic Uygur scholar in Urumqi , who requested anonymity, said the ETIM had been greatly weakened by the Nato invasion of Afghanistan, which interrupted its ties to the Taliban. He said the group was not well organised enough to conduct an attack more than 2,000 kilometres from the Uygur areas in Xinjiang.

"Today's ETIM has very little influence, although it may still have some spiritual influence to some Uygurs in southern Xinjiang, especially among the poor population," he said.

On Thursday, the country's security chief, Meng Jianzhu, said the ETIM was behind the "premeditated" attack. Authorities had arrested five suspects in connection with the incident, all Uygurs from Xinjiang.

But a Uygur social-science student in Shanghai who has studied social issues in Xinjiang said people there had been largely cut off from the ETIM after the US designated its members for anti-terrorism sanctions after September 11, 2001.

"Today, it's almost impossible for Uygurs in Xingjiang to have contact with the ETIM since it was placed by the United States on its terrorist watch list," the student said.

He and his friends were also sceptical about the official version of Tiananmen attack, such as why the driver of the SUV involved would blow himself up with his wife and mother-in-law in the car.

According to CCTV English, eight suspected Islamist separatists from Hotan carried out three reconnaissance trips to Tiananmen and collected 400 litres of petrol in preparation for the assault. They had been hiding out in western Beijing, accumulating 40,000 yuan (HK$50,500) and several long knives for the operation, it said.

Jiang Zhaoyong , a Beijing-based expert on ethnic issues, said he believed that more ETIM members had been able to sneak back from Afghanistan amid the start of the US military withdrawal there.

He said a lack of economic opportunity and the government's restrictions on Muslim religious expression had made extremism attractive to many Uygurs.

"Many Uygur farmers in southern Xingjiang have lost their traditional jobs since local government introduced machines and electronic equipments in the past few decades," he said.

"Religion is the most effective way to cure bitter people's pain, but local government officials' coercive policy to force them to give up religious activities has further pushed the Uygurs to the corner."