Traditionally, the Uighur separatists aren’t the sort to seek attention. Dwelling primarily in the mountains of Xinjiang Province in northwest China, they don’t maintain an active social media presence like the Taliban or al-Qaeda. They almost never post videos boasting of exploits.
But over the last two weeks, amid unsubstantiated speculation the Uighurs had some involvement in the disappearance of MH370, the Turkic-speaking Muslim group has gained greater international notoriety than perhaps ever before. (The Chinese government said Tuesday morning that background checks on nationals aboard the missing flight didn’t return any terror links.)
The Uighur emergence began on March 1 when a group of attackers wielding knives stormed a train station in southern China and stabbed to death 29 people, injuring at least 140 more. It was a rare occurrence in China: a “premeditated violent terrorist attack,” as the government-run Xinhua News Agency described it, pinning responsibility on Uighur separatists.
Then late last week, five more Chinese were stabbed to death in another knife fight that involved Uighurs, further rattling a nation still skittish from the March 1 attack.
At the same time, one of the leading Malaysian newspapers, the Harian Metro, reported that police were paying “special attention” to a 35-year-old Uighur passenger who it claimed had once undergone flight simulation training. The report, which the government declined to confirm, said the Uighur had gone to a British university and learned how to fly on a simulator in Sweden around 2006.
Afterward, according to Australia’s News.com, people purporting to represent the Uighur separatist movement hammered journalists with e-mails. They claimed to be behind the airplane’s disappearance — an assertion News.com dismissed as “opportunistic.”
Over the weekend, however, additional claims surfaced that had more credence. Ensconced in a secluded mountain base straddling Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, the Uighur leader of the Turkestan Islamic Party vowed to Reuters that there would be more terror attacks. “China is not only our enemy, but it is the enemy of all Muslims,” Abdullah Mansour said. “We have plans for many attacks in China. We have a message to China that East Turkestan people and other Muslims have woken up. They cannot suppress us and Islam any more. Muslims will take revenge.”
Related: A Uyghur man stabbed a police officer to death and was instantly shot and killed by fellow policemen in the capital of China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, police and officials said Tuesday, in the latest violence to hit the troubled region.
Policeman Osmanjan Ghoji, 29, was attacked suddenly as he was leaving a meeting with other police officers and officials in Urumqi city on Sunday evening, they said, suggesting a political motive behind the incident.
Police identified his attacker as ethnic minority Uyghur Ilyar Rehmutulla from Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture located in China’s extreme west on its border with Kyrgyzstan.
“It occurred suddenly while the officials and police were leaving a meeting in the Xinya neighborhood in Yamalik district of Urumqi city,” a police officer told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
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They are ramping up it seems. The Uyghurs speak a Turkic language similar to Kyrgyz.