Chinese authorities say they have broken up 181 violent terrorist groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang — and that they are making progress in winning public support for their crackdown on terrorism and Islamic extremism in the region, which has been hit by Muslim violence in recent years.
IB TIMES (h/t Mike F) The crackdown was launched in May of last year after attackers threw explosives into a crowded street market in the region’s capital, Urumqi, killing 39 people. It followed several attacks in public places around China, which authorities said were the work of Islamic separatist groups from Xinjiang.
Among these attacks was one in which 31 people were stabbed to death at a railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming. Xinjiang itself saw several other major attacks last year, including one in July on government buildings in Yarkant county, near the western city of Kashgar, where police saidthey shot dead 59 attackers, while 37 civilians were killed.
There also was a series of bomb attacks in Luntai county in September, when six civilians were reported killed, along with 40 attackers.
Now Xinjiang authorities say their crackdown is yielding results: By the end of April, local officials told Chinese media, 181 groups had been broken up, all but a handful of them (less than 4 percent) before they had chances to carry out any attacks. The reports did not give figures on the number of people detained, but the official People’s Daily newspaper said 112 people had turned themselves in to the authorities voluntarily.
Tensions in Xinjiang have grown in recent years, notably since violent riots in 2009, when members of the region’s main indigenous Muslim group, the Uighurs, attacked mainly ethnic Han Chinese residents in Urumqi, killing at least 197 people.
China says Islamic extremists from across Xinjiang’s border with Central Asian countries have stirred growing Islamization and opposition to Chinese rule in the region, with the tacit support of sharia-supporting Western governments.
Chinese media said the ongoing campaign, which has been extended to the end of this year, was designed to “to root out violent terrorist thought at its source” by targeting gangs, organizers and supporters.
It said police and military police had worked together in the campaign, which had also targeted audio and video recordings that promoted violent terrorism, and had intensified crackdowns on illegal border crossings.
Critics of the campaign have noted that the authorities, in their attempt to root out religious influence, have banned local government officials, civil servants and students in Xinjiang from fasting for Ramadan, called on residents in some areas to hand in their passports and, in one village, insisted that shops sell alcohol, to the dissatisfaction of some Muslim residents.
The authorities have also launched campaigns against women covering their faces, and male students growing beards. Monday’s Xinhua news agency report said the authorities had “vigorously promoted modern living in the region.”