Critics question China's handling of alleged terror plot
Security experts question whether claims about Friday's domestic airliner incident amount to state propaganda to bolster a pre-Olympics crackdown.
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The oil-rich region of Western China has around 8 million Uighurs, Muslims with ethnic, linguistic, and cultural ties to central Asia. Many resent the Han Chinese majority and restrictions on religious and cultural expressions. Sporadic antigovernment violence flared in the 1990s, but few incidents have been reported in recent years.Skip to next paragraph
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News of the alleged attack emerged during China's annual legislative meeting in Beijing. In addition to the apparent aircraft attack, Wang Lequan, a Communist Party leader, saidpolice had shot dead two members of a "terrorist gang" and arrested 15 others during a raid in January in Xinjiang, Reuters reports. He said the gang was been plotting to "damage the Beijing Olympics." In January 2007, Chinese forces killed 18 alleged terrorists in Xinjiang, during what authorities said was a raid on a training camp in the mountains.
So far, Chinese media downplayed the story, the Daily Telegraph in London reported. No mention of the terror plot was carried Monday in the People's Daily, the official party mouthpiece, or by the Chinese-language service of Xinhua, the state-run news agency. Xinhua's English-language report, issued Sunday after Mr. Wang and Mr. Bekri revealed the threats, was later removed from its website.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the alleged aircraft plot followed a hostage-taking last week in the popular tourist destination of Xian. A Chinese man held 10 Australian travel agents hostage on a bus for three hours before being shot dead by a police sniper. No motive was disclosed and the incident added to China's focus on security.
Security experts said China represents an obvious target for extremists given the high-profile nature of the Olympics and promised attendance by various heads of state, including President Bush. But Beijing also may have an interest in linking various plots to the Olympics to increase public support for a broad crackdown, [...] foreign policy experts said.
"It's not a surprise that somehow terrorism would show its head at the Olympics, but it strikes me as awfully early," said Ed Turzanski, senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
"The Olympics are a high-risk venture," he added. "But I also wouldn't put it past them to use the threat of terrorism to clean up problems they feel they have internally and to get people off their backs, such as human rights groups."