BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese militants from the western region of Xinjiang have fled from the country to get “terrorist training” from Islamic State fighters for attacks at home, state media reported on Monday.
The report was the first time state-run media had linked militants from Xinjiang, home to ethnic minority Uighur Muslims, to militants of the Islamic State (IS), a radical Sunni Muslim group which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq.
China’s government has blamed a surge of violence over the past year on Islamist militants from Xinjiang who China says are fighting for an independent state called East Turkestan.
“They not only want to get training in terrorist techniques, but also to expand their connections in international terrorist organizations through actual combat to gain support for escalation of terrorist activities in China,” the Global Times cited an unidentified Chinese “anti-terrorism worker” as saying.
In the latest violence in Xinjiang, state media said two people were killed and several injured in at least three explosions on Sunday.
The Global Times, which is run by the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, said militants from Xinjiang had recently been involved in IS activities in Syria and Iraq as well as with IS “branches” in Southeast Asia.
The newspaper said in the report on its website that four suspected militants from Xinjiang were arrested in Indonesia this month. Indonesian police said last week four foreigners were being questioned but did not identify them.
The four fled to Cambodia from China, and then went to Thailand where they obtained fake Turkish passports, before flying to Indonesia through Malaysia, the newspaper said.
Indonesia has raised concern about a possible spillover of IS support after revelations that Indonesian citizens had traveled to Syria and Iraq to join fighters there.
“Terrorists, separatists and extremists” from Xinjiang have often slipped abroad through mountainous provinces in southern China with porous border areas, because border control in Xinjiang was strict, the newspaper said.
“Their ultimate goal is still to fight back into China,” Pan Zhiping, a former head of Central Asia studies at Xinjiang’s Academy of Social Science, told the Global Times.
The report is likely to lend urgency to a nationwide “anti-terrorism” operation that President Xi Jinping’s administration has launched following attacks that Beijing has blamed on Islamists and separatists from Xinjiang.
Many Uighurs in Xinjiang resent what they call Chinese government restrictions on their culture, language and religion.
Reporting by Li Hui and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robert Birsel