Preparing to Mark 60 Years of Communist Rule, China Worries About Terrorism

Two People’s Armed Police officers stand guard in front of the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009. (AP Photo)
( – As China deploys heavy security ahead of a massive celebration to mark 60 years of communist rule, officials have reportedly approached Pakistan about keeping in check Islamists linked to China’s restive Xinjiang region.

Anxious to avoid both terror attacks and public unrest of the type that occurred in Xinjiang over the summer and in Tibet last year, officials in Beijing at the weekend raised the capital’s security level, increasing to 6,000 the number of police officers on regular patrol.

Hundreds of checkpoints first set up ahead of last year’s Olympic Games have been reactivated, with people and vehicles entering and leaving the city coming under close scrutiny, security officials told state media.

Security has also been tightened at important sites and infrastructure. including bridges, tunnels and the subway system.

Beijing police officials also plan to involve hundreds of thousands of civilians, from college students to retirees. They will don red armbands and be tasked to keep an eye out for strangers or suspicious activities in their neighborhoods.

Much of the focus will be in and around Tiananmen Square, where a huge parade is scheduled to mark National Day on October 1. President Hu Jintao will give a keynote speech, followed by a military parade, according to a spokesman for the Beijing municipal government’s committee in charge of the event.

A mass pageant, involving some 200,000 citizens and 60 floats, will explore the theme “Motherland and I Marching Together,” and kick off three days of parties, gala functions and fireworks displays, as well as a large musical event at the Great Hall of the People.

An already security-conscious government was shaken by protests early last month by Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang which left almost 200 people dead. Sparked by anger over the deaths of two Uighurs elsewhere in China, the protests in the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, turned violent, with some Uighurs attacking ethnic Han Chinese and clashing with police.

Paramilitary police officers patrol in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, on July 13, 2009. (AP Photo)
Beijing blamed Uighur activists abroad for provoking the unrest, targeting in particular the U.S.-based head of the World Uighur Congress (WUC), Rebiya Khadeer, who denied the accusations.

‘International mujahideen movement’

Beijing has long sought to blur differences between Uighur groups wanting greater autonomy and violent separatists such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

Shortly after 9/11, China published a document linking separatists in Xinjiang with al-Qaeda, and the U.S. subsequently named ETIM under an executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists by freezing groups’ assets in the U.S.

While not officially designated a “foreign terrorist organization,” ETIM appeared in the State Department’s 2002 report on terrorism as a group “linked to the international mujahideen movement – and to a limited degree al-Qaeda – beginning with the participation of ethnic Uighur mujahideen in the Soviet/Afghan war.”

The department’s 2003, 2004 and 2005 annual reports also named ETIM, with the latter saying it was “linked to al-Qaeda and the international jihadist movement” and noting that ETIM members had fought alongside al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

In December 2003, ETIM leader Hessian Machismo was killed by Pakistani troops during a raid on a suspected al-Qaeda hideout in Waziristan, a district in the tribal belt adjacent to the Pakistan-Afghan border.

In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China blamed several bombings in various parts of the country on Uighur militants. Islamist groups threatened attacks during the games but despite a deadly attack on policemen in Xinjiang days before the games opened the event itself went off without any security incidents.

A People’s Armed Police officer patrols a neighborhood in Urumqi, Xinjiang province on July 9, 2009. (AP Photo)
After last month’s violence in Urumqi, Islamic reaction ranged from expressions of concern from the Organization of the Islamic Conference – which this month sent a delegation to investigate – to threats from militant groups including an al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa which vowed to attack Chinese targets. (Khadeer’s WUC distanced itself from al-Qaeda and condemned the threat.)

Mumbai-type attack

China’s 60th National Day celebrations would be an enviable target for terrorists wanting to punish Beijing.

Citing reliable reports from police sources in Pakistan, India-based analyst and former counterterrorism official Bahukutumbi Raman said the Chinese ambassador in Islamabad has urged the host government “to step up vigilance on the Uighur elements in Pakistan and particularly on the activities of [ETIM] based in North Waziristan.”

Raman, the director of the Institute for Topical Studies in India, said China’s public security ministry had been “caught napping” in Urumqi in July, as it had been in Lhasa, Tibet in March 2008.

Raman said China’s nervousness has been heightened by the fact that Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month, runs over the weeks in the run-up to the National Day events.

“Restrictions on the movements  and gatherings of Muslims become very difficult during this period and often prove provocative,” he said. Ramadan ends on September 19-20.

A recent anti-terror exercise in Beijing suggested that one of the potential threat scenarios authorities are considering is a complex, multi-target attack like the one in Mumbai last November. More than 170 people were killed by terrorists from Pakistan during the 60-hour assault in India’s commercial capital.

“While widespread disturbances of the kind seen in Lhasa and Urumqi would require dozens of law-breakers, a terrorist attack of the kind witnessed in Mumbai required less than a dozen well-motivated and well-trained terrorists,” Raman noted.

He said ETIM boasts such members, “and could create havoc if they manage infiltrate into Beijing.”

October 1 marks the day in 1949 when Mao Tse-tung, speaking in Tiananmen Square, declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, after defeating the Nationalist Kuomintang government. The Nationalists fled the mainland and set up government in Taiwan.
Copyright © Chief Of War
Powered by Sinlung