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Al-Qaeda Calls for 'Holy War' Against China

Al-Qaeda, of course, does, but its efforts to penetrate the Uighurs have been largely unsuccessful. Last November, Muhammad Uighuri, a self-proclaimed al-Qaeda spokesman, announced that Osama bin Laden had appointed Abdul Haq Turkistani, a Chinese citizen, as the leader of al-Qaeda in China, a previously unknown group. There are reports that Turkistani was also named to head the Turkistan Islamic Party -- TIP -- which may or may not be another name for the shadowy ETIM. TIP has claimed responsibility for bus bombings in Shanghai and southwest Yunnan province. Beijing, however, has denied that TIP operates in China, and there are even doubts that it exists at all.

This July, al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Algeria, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM, publicly vowed revenge for the deaths of Uighurs in the rioting in Urumqi. The call for action is considered by some to be the first time that bin Laden’s organization had targeted China. Soon thereafter, the self-styled military commander of TIP issued a video also vowing to attack Chinese. “Know that this Muslim people have men who will take revenge,” said Seyfullah. “Soon, the horsemen of Allah will attack you, Allah willing. So lie in wait; indeed, we lie in wait with you.”

It’s not clear that Seyfullah, whoever he is, represents anyone. But the exiled Rebiya Kadeer can claim to speak for the vast majority of her people, emerging as their global leader in recent months. Beijing calls her a terrorist, but she is not one and has consistently -- and emphatically -- rejected al-Qaeda support. She, not bin Laden, is the one who now sets the tone for the Uighurs’ decades-long campaign for freedom.

Despite al-Qaeda’s announcements and calls for jihad, it is not clear that its recent anti-China statements represent a change in operational focus. But al-Qaeda’s involvement is nonetheless a signal, in addition to street protests around the world and assertive statements from Muslim governments, that the plight of the Uighurs is beginning to inflame Muslim populations. That is what al-Qaeda’s announcement on Wednesday is really telling us.