The Ministry of Public Security branded six Uygurs as 'terrorists' on Thursday, accusing them of being involved in terrorist training camps and of organising attacks in the restive Xinjiang region, while dubbing them key members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
The six suspects, all men aged between 29 and 47, allegedly received terrorist training between 1994 and 2010 in what the ministry called 'an unnamed South Asian country'.
Foreign media, such as Reuters, suggested this could be a veiled reference to Pakistan, Beijing's long-time ally.
Their names, other personal information, photos and details of their alleged crimes were published by the ministry on its website, and their funds and assets were frozen by police.
'They have participated in the organisation [ETIM], and planned and executed terrorist acts against Chinese targets within and outside the country,' Xinhua reported, citing the ministry.
Nurmemet Memetmin, 47, has been accused of receiving terrorist training in the unnamed South Asian country in 1994 before jointly founding the ETIM, which advocates Xinjiang's independence and which Beijing has long accused of triggering terror attacks in the autonomous region. Authorities also say he raised funds and recruited members for the movement.
'Memetmin also founded a terrorist training camp in an unnamed South Asian country in October 1997. He worked as a drillmaster and taught dozens of terrorists how to make explosives and use firearms,' the ministry said in its announcement. Authorities said Memetmin and terrorists he trained were responsible for a series of deadly attacks in Kashgar in late July.
The ministry said that many extremists tried to leave China to receive terrorist training after suspects Abdulkyum Kurban and Paruh Tursun encouraged them to incite violence, such as by using suicide bombs or knives to attack people in public places.
Mamat Imin Nurmamat, 29, has been accused of plotting two terrorist attacks in Shache, Xinjiang, between July and October that killed at least one person and injured another.
Li Wei , an anti-terrorism expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Bijing told the South China Morning Post the latest announcement did not necessarily mean the threat of terrorism in Xinjiang was growing.
'Of course there will be continued threats in Xinjiang, and anti-terrorism involves a long-term strategy,' Li said. 'But rather than a growing threat, I would say these are the first six suspects named by the police in accordance with the law, after the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress adopted a bill on anti-terrorism efforts in October.' Beijing has previously said extremists receiving training in Pakistan had triggered attacks in Xinjiang.
In December, 15 Uygur men who were branded terrorists were caught by police after trying to sneak out of China for alleged training in carrying out jihad, or holy war, via a county in Xinjiang that borders Pakistan and India.
Xinjiang authorities said earlier that one of two attacks, which occurred in less than 24 hours in August, was masterminded by Muslim extremists trained in Pakistan. The attacks left at least 14 people dead and 42 injured.