Updated: Feb 10, 2021
Terrorism in China largely refers to the extremist ideology of the Uighur, who have many takers in the Xinjiang province.
Genesis of terrorism in China Terrorism was by and large absent in imperial China. It germinated in the Muslim-dominated areas of modern China. A draft legislation necessitated by this development, as reported by the Xinhua news agency, classified as terrorism acts that “cause or aim to cause severe harm to society by causing casualties, bringing about major economic losses, damaging public facilities or disturbing social order.”
On February 9. 2009, Abdul Haq a commander in the Uighur separatist movement Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP aka East Turkestan Islamic Movement), released a video where he was heard saying, “If you do not wage jihad, you will never be able to get rid of the oppression of the infidels which makes you abandon the religion and which makes slaves of you. Thus, you will not be able to be rescued from the oppression of this world and the torments of the hereafter, or find eternal happiness until you return to the religion of Allah”.
That very year in August, Abdullah Mansour, TIP’s militant said in The Duty of Faith and Support, a mouthpiece of Islam/al-Fajr Media Center:
“We have to conquer our own country and purify it of all infidels. Then, we should conquer the infidels' countries and spread Islam. The infidels who are usurping our countries have announced war against Islam and Muslims, forcing Muslims to abandon Islam and change their beliefs.”
Following the breaking of political relations between China and the Soviet Union in the period 1956-66, the latter started offering military and moral support to the Uighurs. The USSR amassed troops on the China-Russia border along Xinjiang. China accused Soviet Russia of engineering riots on Chinese territory.
The helpless ‘extremists’ are then reduced to doing nothing more than replacing acts of violence with “peaceful demonstrations as the expression of the Uighur malaise” — according to Rémi Castets of the Department of China Studies, University of Bordeaux-Montaigne.
In the 1980s, the moment China relaxed some of its repressive measures to tackle terrorism, Uighurs established contact with Islamist groups of central Asia (especially Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan) and Pakistan. This was the flip side of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, where establishing businesses in China demanded a peaceful atmosphere. Not only did China, at that point, lift restrictions on religious practices but it also stopped promoting atheism as an instrument of state policy.
Militant groups that reared their heads in this period in China
East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)
East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO)
United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET)
Uighur Liberation Organization (ULO)
These terrorists received training in Afghanistan and Pakistan even as they split, regrouped or were lost in oblivion over the next few decades.
All along, liberals tried to lessen the gravity of the situation by claiming there was no singular ideology to uphold which all the Uighur groups were fighting the Chinese state.
This, even as al Qaida No. 2 Ayman al Zawahiri endorsed "jihad to liberate every span of land of the Muslims that has been usurped and violated, from Kashgar to Andalusia, and from the Caucasus to Somalia and Central Africa".
What Uighur terrorists in China did
The East Turkestan Islamic Party bombed two buses on February 5, 1992, killing three persons and and injuring 23 in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
On February 27, 1997, the Uighur Liberation Party bombed three buses in Urumqi, leaving nine dead and 68 seriously wounded.
Between February and April 1998, six explosions devastated economic and industrial hubs in western China, including homes and offices of local communist party and Chinese government staff.
On August 4, 2008, ETIM terrorists drove a truck into a group of approximately 70 jogging policemen and then lobbed grenades at the officers, killing 16 cops.
Two days later, seven men armed with homemade explosives reportedly drove taxis into government buildings, in Kuqa, Xinjiang, injuring at least two police officers and a security guard.
Two more days later, terrorists stabbed three security officers in Yamanya, near Kashgar in Xinjiang.
On August 19, 2010, six ethnic Uighur men loaded a vehicle with explosives and drove into a group of group of security officers at a highway intersection near Aksu, Xinjiang, killing five of their targets and two of themselves.
On July 18, 2011, 18 Uighur men stormed a police station in Hotan and stabbed the cops indiscriminately, killing 18 of them.
On July 30-31, 2011, two Uighurs robbed a truck driver, ran the vehicle into a crowded street, mowing down pedestrians and stabbing people, killing six.
The next day, the terrorists killed the owner and a waiter of a restaurant. Then they killed four civilians. The Uighurs failed to hijack a plane (Tianjin Airlines flight GS7554 from Hotan to Urumqi, Xinjiang) on June 29, 2012.
On April 30, 2014, knife attacks claimed the lives of three while injuring 79 people in Ürümqi.
43 people were killed, including 4 of the assailants, and more than 90 were wounded when, on May 22, 2014, two SUVs carrying five terrorists mowed down shoppers and shopkeepers in a market of Ürümqi.
On November 28, 2014, terrorists carried out a suicide bomb attack that claimed 14 lives of their own while one civilian was killed.
On March 6, 2015, three Uighur terrorists attacked civilians using long knives at the Guangzhou train station. The incident left 13 injured.
On June 24, 2015, terrorists killed several policemen in Xinjiang.
On September 18, 2015, in what came to be known as the Sogan colliery attack, knife-wielding terrorists attacked off-duty workers at a coalmine, killing 50, including five police officers.
There have been a few other instances of terrorism in China, but they being sporadic and not related to the Uighurs, are not the subject matter of this post.
China hit back
China couldn't take it beyond the July 2009 Ürümqi riots. The country took Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries into confidence and preempted a statement by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation against the stringent measures against Uighur extremists it was about to take.
China has put the people of Xinjiang, especially Muslims, under intense surveillance. They have no choice but to submit their DNA and biometric details so that the Chinese authority can keep a watch on the whereabouts of each one of them. Or so Human Rights Watch claims.
Any Muslim in the province suspected of a soft corner for terrorists is detained and thrown into a China’s version of concentration camps. These have been named “re-education centers”. About 1 million Uighur are detained in these camps - that is 1/10th of the total Uighur population in China! “Many Uighur-majority regions have been ordered to detain a certain percentage of the adult population even if no fault was found. Detentions frequently occur for no discernible reasons,” researcher Adrian Zenz said.
China calls the next measure “de-extremification” (sic). Several Muslim names are now banned in Xinjiang. They are mostly Arabic words for Allah, Prophet Mohammed and jihad (holy war).
The typically Muslim beard without mustache has been declared “abnormal” and banned. Those caught sporting such beard are held by the police, forced into barber shops and shaved clean.
China has banned burqas (niqab) and the Islamic veil that leaves part of the woman’s face visible (hijab).
Getting married by the sharia-sanctioned process of nikah stands banned too. Muslims have to marry following the Chinese legal procedure that is secular (non-religious).
“Parents should use good moral conduct to influence their children, educate them to revere science, pursue culture, uphold ethnic unity and refuse and oppose extremism,” the Chinese authority tells Muslims through the state-owned media.