BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities have detained 45 East Turkestan “terrorist” suspects, and foiled plots to carry out suicide bomb attacks and kidnap athletes to disrupt the Beijing Olympics, a police spokesman said on Thursday.
Uighur militants have been agitating to establish an independent East Turkestan in China’s predominantly Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang bordering Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Chinese authorities cracked two “terrorist” groups, one of which belonged to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Ministry of Public Security spokesman Wu Heping told a news conference in Beijing.
ETIM was listed by the United Nations as a terrorist group in 2002 and has links to Al Qaeda.
The group asked its members to do trial runs using poisoned meat, poison gas and remote control explosive devices, Wu said.
Their aim was “to create an international incident with the goal of disrupting the Olympic Games”, the spokesman said.
The first group, led by Aji Muhammat, bought explosive materials and carried out 13 test explosions, Wu said without giving the nationality of the ringleader.
Suspects in custody confessed they were ordered to commit suicide when arrested, he said.
Police detained 10 suspects and seized 16,000 yuan ($2,300) in cash and a large quantity of “Holy War” training materials, Wu said. Several other suspects are on the run.
At the end of last year, the group ordered its members to enter China and had planned to be ready by April to carry out “terrorist” activities starting from May in Beijing and Shanghai, using explosives and poison, the spokesman said.
In the second case, authorities detained 35 people, seized 9.51 kg (21 lb) of explosives, eight detonators and some “Holy War” propaganda material, Wu said, adding that the group had planned to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and athletes.
The second group also planned to carry out suicide bomb attacks in Xinjiang’s regional capital Urumqi and other cities in China, the spokesman said.
It had been secretly recruiting people “willing to sacrifice their lives for Jihad”, or holy war, Wu said.
“We are facing a real terrorist threat. All walks of life and the public should maintain a high degree of vigilance,” the spokesman added.
Oil-rich Xinjiang is home to 8 million Uighurs -- a Turkic, largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia. Many resent the growing presence and economic grip of Han Chinese.
Last month China foiled a bid to cause an air disaster on a passenger jet en route to Beijing from Urumqi and the plane made a safe emergency landing.
In January 2007, Chinese forces killed 18 people described as terrorists in a gun battle in Xinjiang. One policeman was killed and another wounded in the raid on a training camp in the mountains of the Pamirs plateau in southern Xinjiang.
Writing by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Ken Wills and Jerry Norton
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