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Xinjiang to get tougher on terrorists
2012/04/18
 

URUMQI, April 18 (Xinhua) -- Northwest China's Xinjiang is stepping up its fight against terrorism, top officials and anti-terrorism experts have told Xinhua.

Police have been ordered to strike down hard and fast on attackers and officials have been urged to work more closely with the masses to detect terrorist activity.

"Fighting terrorism is top of the government's list of priorities. We should hit the crime with 'iron fists,' annihilate it in the plotting," said Zhang Chunxian, secretary of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region committee of the Communist Party of China.

Zhang told a recent government meeting that the main task of anti-terrorism work for this year entails setting a standard procedure for police confronting terrorist attackers, fighting resolutely against religious extremism, and boosting law enforcement personnel stationed in communities and villages.

A security official involved in the drawing of the standard procedure of confrontation said police are required to take a tougher stance.

"In key areas, it means police should reach the site of violence in minutes once it breaks out and determinedly use force to end it as fast as possible," the official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Xinhua.

Xinjiang, with a large Muslim presence, has been battling separatism and terrorism for decades. Security experts worry that the growing religious extremism -- imported from neighboring volatile central and southwest Asia regions -- has fanned violent attacks in Xinjiang.

In the most serious atrocity in decades, 197 people were killed and about 1,700 others injured on July 5, 2009, when riots erupted in the regional capital of Urumqi.

"Since then, the security network has been greatly improved. Police are able to reach the site of violence in a short time, unlike on July 5," said Prof. Pan Zhiping with Xinjiang University.

"Overall, Xinjiang is stable and law enforcers are able to control the situation," added Pan, who has published many books on terrorism in the region. "But the foundations of the stability are fragile. The security challenge remains grave."

FRAGILE STABILITY

Pan said police were already able to respond to terrorist attacks quickly in February, but the perpetrators of an atrocity that month were "so crazy" that they killed more than a dozen people before police arrived.

On Feb. 28, a group of assailants with knives went on a killing spree on Xingfu Walking Street in Yecheng county of Kashgar. Fifteen civilians were hacked to death and a further 14 were injured.

Police shot dead eight attackers and arrested group leader Abdukerem Mamut. During the clash, one security guard was killed and four policemen were injured.

A court in Kashgar prefecture on March 26 convicted Abdukerem Mamut of murder and organizing and leading a nine-member terrorist group. He was sentenced to death.

Two similar public attacks hit the Silk Road oasis city of Kashgar in late July last year, leaving 13 dead and 44 others injured. Only several days came between those attacks and a violent assault on a police office claiming 18 lives in the nearby city of Hotan.

"We might be able to prevent large-scale atrocities like the July 5 riots but sporadic attacks like these are hard to stem," said Ma Dazheng, a Beijing-based researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

He said the recent attacks show the hallmarks of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an overseas militant group recognized by both Beijing and the U.N..

Earlier in April, the Ministry of Public Security named six ETIM members it was hunting, including Nurmemet Memetmin, 47, -- identified by the ministry as the ETIM's commander.

Having set up a training camp in a South Asian country as early as 1997, Nurmemet Memetmin sent his subordinate, Memtieli Tiliwaldi, to China in 2007, the ministry said. Memtieli Tiliwaldi was the mastermind of the Kashgar attacks last year, according to authorities, and police killed him in a pursuit following the attacks.

Ma said the ETIM has been significantly weakened after its former head, Hasan Mahsum, was killed in 2003.

"With declining clout, the ETIM can not affect Xinjiang's overall stability," Ma said. "But it still has its energy and poses threats."

He said terrorist groups in Xinjiang are increasingly family-based and showed fewer signs of being part of a large terrorist network, a structure which made it more difficult for authorities to root them out. And the attackers tend to be younger and include more women, Ma added.

PREEMPTIVE STRIKE

Zhang told the meeting that the fight against terrorism will be arduous because the root problem of violence caused by historical, international and practical issues persists.

He ordered officials to strike first to nip terrorist activities in the bud.

To do so, the government has been cracking down on illegal religious activities and weaving a huge security network at grass-roots levels to enhance "social management."

In Kashgar, authorities said they worked on more than 4,000 "valuable" tip-offs from the public last year to bust extremist groups before they took actions and uncover places for holding illegal religious activities.

Besides working closely with the public, Xinjiang authorities are increasing the presence of police, militia and security guards in communities and villages.

In January, the government said it would recruit 8,000 police officers to beef up security in the vast countryside. Their tasks focus on security patrols, management of the migrant population and cracking down on illegal religious activities, according to officials.

Ma noted, however, that the root problems can not be easily solved by the crackdown campaigns or economic developments alone.

"Experts and officials are still discussing policies that can eradicate the breeding ground of terrorism," he said. "For now, maintaining stability in Xinjiang remains an arduous task."

 
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