China warns citizens in Algeria of al Qaeda threat

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has warned its citizens in Algeria about possible attacks from al Qaeda in retribution for a Chinese government crackdown in the Muslim region of Xinjiang, as it upped the death toll from this month’s ethnic riots.

Armed Chinese paramilitary police in riot gear march along a main street in the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 13, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

The Chinese embassy in Algeria on its website urged all Chinese people and organizations to be more aware of safety precautions and to strengthen security measures “in consideration of the situation after the July 5 incident in Urumqi.”

The warning came after London risk consultancy Stirling Assynt said in a report to clients that al Qaeda might target Chinese workers in northwest Africa, citing “chatter” after the July 5 ethnic riots in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang.

“China has been reminding overseas Chinese to pay attention to their safety and enhance self protection,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters on Tuesday when asked to comment on the report.

“China will take any necessary measure to protect the safety of Chinese organizations and citizens overseas.”

A diplomat, Shao, at the Chinese embassy in Algiers told Reuters: “We do believe that security has improved a lot in Algeria and we will rely on Algerian security forces to protect our people.”

In the Philippines, which is battling a Muslim insurgency in its south, the government has ordered security to be tightened around the Chinese embassy and consulates, said Andres Caro, head of the national police directorate.

Caro said police had asked intelligence units to investigate threats against China’s interests after Liu Zhongxiang, China’s defense attache in Manila, requested police assistance to guard the embassy and consular offices.

“There was information that local terrorists associated with these Chinese terrorists/supporters are planning to initiate attacks against Chinese embassies in various countries,” Caro told reporters, quoting a letter sent by Liu.

Security remains heavy in ethnic Uighur neighborhoods of Xinjiang regional capital Urumqi after riots between the Muslim Uighur minority and majority Han Chinese wounded more than 1,600. About 1,000 people have been detained.

The official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday 192 people were killed in the riots in Urumqui. The earlier figure was 184.

Exiled Uighur organizations said they opposed all forms of violence and condemned the reported al Qaeda threat.

The Uyghur (also spelt Uighur) American Association and the World Uyghur Congress are “extremely disturbed by reports that the North African wing of Al Qaeda has threatened to attack Chinese workers in Africa in revenge for the deaths of Uyghurs in East Turkestan,” the exiled groups said in an emailed statement.

They said they advocated basic human rights and self-determination for Uighurs, a Turkic people who are largely Muslim and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia and who now make up less than half the region’s population of 20 million.

Chinese workers have been kidnapped, and Chinese convoys attacked, over the past few years in many parts of the world with heavy Chinese investment, including Pakistan and Niger.

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Liu Zhen, Manny Mogato in Manila and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; Editing by Sugita Katyal