Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Incident in Tiananmen Square

On Monday, an alleged terrorist attack took place at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. A passenger vehicle crashed into the crowd and then burst into flames. Five people were killed, 38 injured and hospitalized. Some police sources associate the incident with the Uighurs, a Muslim separatist-minded population of China. Has jihad come to China?

On Tuesday, Reuters agency, citing informed sources, reported that the incident looked "like a planned suicide attack." A Jeep symbolically crashed into a crowd in front of a portrait of Mao Zedong, the former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and the ideologue of the Cultural Revolution. The squire where the incident occurred is also known for the fact that here in 1989 Chinese authorities shot down a student demonstration. There were hundreds of victims in that tragedy. 

According to police sources, the attack could also be linked to the upcoming November plenary session of the Central Committee of the CPC expected to announce major economic reforms, Reuters continued. Police is looking for two Uighurs and a car with Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region license plate.

Separatism is not a new problem for China. Think about Tibet with its annual self-immolations, and the experience of separation of Taiwan. This is the major cause that has determined the position of Beijing on similar global issues (China has not recognized the independence of Kosovo and South Ossetia and Abkhazia), and the Syrian conflict. China's leaders fear that Sunni radicalism (Uighurs speak Turkish) will move to Asia and particularly China.

Chinese officials say that an extremist organization "East Turkistan Islamic Movement" advocating for the creation of an independent East Turkestan operates in the province of Xinjiang. On the request of the Chinese side Pakistan has recently banned this and two other Islamist movements on its territory, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU).       

The representatives of the latter, as reported by Reuters, could be involved in the car suicide attack. The situation has worsened in Xinjiang in July and August, after police detained 139 people on charges of promoting jihad. The arrests were carried out under the campaign to "promote social stability" and "anti- religious extremism," the newspaper Global Times reported.  China Daily reported that a farmer from the village of Hotan posted on the Internet two gigabytes of books about separatism  that were read 30,000 times. A professor of Xinjiang University quoted by the newspaper said that young people were easily lured and manipulated by well-made websites with extremist religious content ​​in the Uighur language.

"This issue (the threat of Islamic terrorism) has been apparent in China for ten or fifteen years," told Andrei Karneev, deputy rector of the Institute of Asian and African Studies of Moscow State University (MSU IAAS) and head of the history of China department. "I just returned from Beijing and can say that security measures at Tiananmen Square were significantly enhanced. Metal detectors have been installed, and there are many law enforcement officers in plain clothes. Understandably, this area is the symbol of the country and attracts protesters. The security measures have been also enhanced in the subway where control systems similar to those in airports have been installed. Of course, we should wait for an official confirmation of the fact that this was an act of terrorism and that Uighurs were involved. Potentially this could have been the representatives of the democratic movements protesting against the authoritarian policies of the leadership, supporters of quasi-religious organizations who believe that their rights are violated for example, "Falun Gong," Tibetan separatists. China is preparing for a terrorist threat despite the fact that it is much smaller than in Russia .

The territory of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China is rich in oil and mineral resources, and borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. There is a small section of the border with Russia. The Chinese remember very well that Muslim troops fought against Mao Zedong for the Kuomingtang, and their resistance was suppressed only nine years after coming of the latter to power. Therefore, the problem of separatism is resolved here through tough measures. They include lack of real local self-government, presence of the army and populating the province with Chinese (so-called Hans whose number has increased from 5 to 39 percent over five years).

The separatist movement in Xinjiang is supported by Turkey and the Muslim Sunni organizations. The West also morally and traditionally supports separatism in the countries of "imaginary enemies" that include China. The efforts of the Chinese authorities to curb separatist are criticized; the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the spread of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is hushed up. Few people know that a representative of Al-Qaeda's Abu Yahya al-Libi called Uighurs "oppressed Muslims" and stressed that China threatened their identity, and called Uighurs to jihad.

 Lyuba Lyulko