BEIJING (Reuters) - China released on Tuesday a wanted list of eight “terrorists” it said had threatened the Beijing Olympics and were bent on achieving independence for its restive western region of Xinjiang.
The eight, all members of China’s mainly Muslim minority Uighur group, belonged to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which the United Nations listed in 2002 as a terrorist organization with links to Al Qaeda, police said.
“The eight are all key members of the ETIM, and all participated in the planning, deployment and execution of all kinds of violent terrorist activities targeting the Beijing Olympics,” Wu Heping, a spokesman for the Public Security Ministry, told reporters.
Two of the suspects, named in a statement handed to reporters as Xiamisidingaihemaiti Abudumijiti and Aikemilai Wumaierjiang, had tried to bomb a “large market place where many Chinese business people gather” before the Games opening ceremony.
A third, Yakuf Memeti, had targeted a big oil refinery, but was thwarted by tight security, the statement said.
It also named Memetiming Memeti, 37, as the head of the ETIM, and said he had sent members to China and “certain Middle Eastern and Western Asian countries” to collect funds, explosives and carry out terror attacks on targets in China and overseas.
The ETIM head, also named as “Memetiming Aximu” among other aliases, had called in videos posted online for “2008 to become China’s year of mourning,” the statement said.
The other suspects — Emeti Yakuf, Memetituersun Yiming, Memetituersun Abuduhalike and Tuersun Toheti — had variously been involved in recruiting and training militants and collecting finances and materials for attacks.
Resource-rich Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of Central Asia, was rocked by violent unrest before and during the Games. Chinese security officials blamed it on Uighur militants seeking an independent state they call East Turkestan.
Sixteen armed police were killed in a bomb and stabbing attack near a police checkpoint in the far western city of Kashgar days before the opening ceremony. Eleven people died the following week in a series of supermarket bombings in Kuqa, in Xinjiang’s south.
Many of Xinjiang’s 8 million Uighurs chafe at the strict controls on religion that China enforces and resent influxes of Han Chinese migrant workers and businesses.
Wu called for international cooperation to track the eight suspects down.
“We hope that relevant international governments and law enforcement departments can carry out investigations into these eight terrorist suspects according to the law, and if their whereabouts are discovered, that they be arrested and handed over to China,” Wu said.
Beijing is also pushing the United States to hand over 17 Chinese Uighurs, held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay since being captured in Afghanistan in 2001.
It describes the men as members of ETIM and terror suspects who must face “the sanction of the law.”
Rights groups have accused China of exaggerating the terror threat in the region in order to crack down on Uighur demands for greater autonomy and religious freedom.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Europe-based World Uyghur Congress, dismissed the list of names released on Tuesday as “politically motivated” and said he had never heard of the suspects.
“They have produced no evidence to support these claims,” he told Reuters by telephone.
Editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb