China uncovers Olympics terror ring

Gov't spokesman says gang with "jihadist" links planned to kidnap athletes, journalists at games.

olympic torch SF 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
olympic torch SF 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Chinese police uncovered a criminal ring planning to kidnap athletes and others at the Beijing Olympic Games, the government said Thursday. The "violent terrorist gang" was based in the western Xinjiang region and headed by a man identified as Abdulrahman Tuersun, Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping said at a news conference. Wu said 35 people, including Tuersun and another man, Kuerban Mutalifu, were arrested between March 26 and April 6 for plotting to kidnap athletes, foreign journalists and other visitors to August's Olympics. Sections of Xinjiang's Muslim Turkic Uighur ethnic group have staged a struggle for a breakaway state. "They wanted to make a global impact to sabotage the Beijing Olympics," Wu said, adding: "We face a real terrorist threat." Wu urged residents to raise their alertness and contact police about suspicious people or incidents. China has tried to portray the insurgency in Xinjiang as linked to terrorist organizations in Central Asia and the Middle East. Evidence has often been scant, though, and some terror experts and overseas law enforcement officials have questioned whether such ties exist. Wu said police confiscated almost 10 kilos of AN-TNT explosive material, eight sticks of dynamite, two detonators, and "jihadist" literature in raids in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital. He said the gang hatched the Olympic plot in November and traveled through Xinjiang last month seeking recruits, including those skilled in weapons and explosives. They also sought fanatics to carry out suicide bomb attacks in Urumqi and other Chinese cities, Wu said. He didn't say whether any volunteers had been found or whether any attacks were imminent, but said police decided to "neutralize the threat" after collecting sufficient evidence. Wu also provided further details on another ring uncovered in January, saying they had been manufacturing explosives and were plotting to attack hotels, government offices and military targets in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities. Wu said 10 men, led by a man named Aji Maimaiti, had been arrested and confessed to acting on orders from a radical Islamic Xinjiang independence group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, to prepare attacks targeting the Olympics. Those included remote-control bombings, poisonings and poison gas attacks, with 13 practice bombings already carried out, Wu said. He said the group sent members abroad for training and had a variety of funding sources. Plans called for poison and bomb attacks to commence next month in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, Wu said, without giving details or mentioning direct attacks on any Olympic targets. "The goal was to disrupt the Beijing Olympics," Wu said. In raids on four locations, police seized 18 detonators and a variety of bomb and poison-making materials and equipment, along with cash, three vehicles, two computers, a CD burner, and large amounts of jihadist training materials, he said. During his presentation, police showed a film of a variety of bottles, boxes, vehicles and machinery confiscated in the raids. Western embassies had asked the government for more information on its claims that was an attempt to hijack a plane in western China last month but so far no evidence has been provided, diplomats have said. While the United States has labeled the East Turkestan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization, the State Department also alleges widespread abuses of the legal and educational systems by the communist authorities to suppress Uighur culture and religion.