HONG KONG (AFP) – Al-Qaeda is threatening for the first time to attack Chinese interests overseas in retaliation for the deaths of Muslims in the restive region of Xinjiang, according to a risk analysis group.
The call for reprisals against China comes from the Algerian-based offshoot Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), according to a summary of its report sent to AFP by the international consultancy Stirling Assynt.
“Although AQIM appear to be the first arm of Al-Qaeda to officially state they will target Chinese interests, others are likely to follow,” said the report, which was first divulged by the South China Morning Post Tuesday.
Osama bin Laden’s network has not previously threatened China, but the Stirling report said a thirst for vengeance over Beijing’s clampdown in Xinjiang was spreading over the global jihadist community.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese work in the Middle East and North Africa, including 50,000 in Algeria, estimated the group, which has offices in London and Hong Kong providing risk advice to corporate and official clients.
“This threat should be taken seriously,” Stirling said, basing its information on people who it said had seen the AQIM instruction.
“There is an increasing amount of chatter … among jihadists who claim they want to see action against China.
“Some of these individuals have been actively seeking information on China’s interests in the Muslim world, which they could use for targeting purposes.”
Stirling said the extremist group could well target Chinese projects in Yemen in a bid to topple the Beijing-friendly government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The intelligence firm also noted Al-Qaeda’s killing of 24 Algerian security officers who were meant to be protection for Chinese engineers three weeks ago.
“On that occasion they did not attack the Chinese engineers because the target was the project on which they were working.
“Now, future attacks of this kind are likely to target security forces and Chinese engineers alike,” the report said.
The most likely scenario would be that Al-Qaeda’s central leadership would encourage their affiliates in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula to attack Chinese targets near at hand, it said.
Al-Qaeda centrally does “not want to open a new front with China,” the analysis said.
“But equally their sense of Muslim solidarity compels them to help and/or to be seen to be helping. This is also a factor in helping the organisation regain support and funding from their global constituency.”
Chinese authorities have said that riots in the Xinjiang city of Urumqi by Muslim Uighurs on July 5 left 184 people dead — most of whom were Han, China’s dominant ethnic group — and more than 1,600 injured.
Uighur leaders accuse Chinese forces of opening fire on peaceful protests, in the latest unrest to rock the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang.
Chinese authorities have previously blamed low-level attacks on Xinjiang’s East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which Beijing, the United States and the United Nations list as a terrorist organisation.
China has also said that ETIM militants have received some training and funding from Al-Qaeda.
However, many experts have told AFP that they doubt the ETIM is a major threat in Xinjiang, and some lawmakers in the United States are pushing for the terrorist label to be lifted.
The US government meanwhile last month released four Uighurs from the Guantanamo Bay detention site, years after clearing them of any wrongdoing. Beijing’s bid to have them extradited was denied and they are now in Bermuda.